Almost 14,000 calls received by hotline dealing with breast cancer screening scandal

Almost 14,000 calls have been received by a hotline established after the breast cancer screening scandal was revealed, amid Labour calls to run the phone line in-house.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was forced to defend the decision to use Serco to operate the hotline, with staff said to have received one hour’s training, as he updated MPs in the Commons.

A computer error has been blamed for 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 not being invited to their final routine screening.

Between 135 and 270 women potentially had their lives shortened as a result of the breast cancer screening error, according to the Government.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hunt told MPs: “I met with the Public Health England chief executive this afternoon and I’m informed that 65,000 letters were sent out last week and the helpline has taken nearly 14,000 calls to date.

“Further letters are going out this week and the first invitations for catch-up screening will go out next week.

“Due to the lack of clinical consensus about the effectiveness of screening for older women, we will provide advice and support for all who miss scans and support them in making their own decision as to whether to proceed.

“And we’ll also be publishing the terms of reference for the independent inquiry shortly, and I can assure the House that no stone will be left unturned in uncovering the truth.”

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said there were many examples of the private sector failing, adding: “Now we learn that the hotline for the women affected by the breast cancer screening failures is provided by Serco and staffed by call handlers who far from having medical or counselling training, had one hour’s training.

“Don’t the women affected deserve better than that? Will he provide the resources for that phone line to be brought back in-house and staffed by medical professionals?”

Mr Hunt replied: “I normally have so much respect for you but I think those women deserve a lot better than that posturing.

“That helpline was set up at very short notice because the call handlers couldn’t do all their training until I had made a statement to Parliament, which I judged was the most important thing to do first.

“It’s not the only help that those affected women will be getting. They will then, on the basis of advice received, be referred either for help at their local hospital or with Macmillan cancer support or through specialist clinicians at Public Health England.

“But we thought it was right that number was made available as quickly as possible.”

Mr Ashworth earlier pushed for legislation to ensure private hospitals “improve their patient safety standards”.

He also asked for a moratorium on NHS referrals to the “unsafe private sector” until safety issues are sorted.

Mr Hunt warned Mr Ashworth against making generalisations about the independent sector and the NHS, noting: “The truth is there is too much poor care in both sectors but both sectors also have outstanding care.

“I have always said that there will be no special favours for the independent sector, we will hold them to the same high standard of care through the CQC regime as we do NHS hospitals.

“If we stopped referring people to the independent sector, 140,000 people would wait longer for operations. That’s not good care.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Lauren Hurley / PA Wire.