Effort to identify women in Scotland affected by breast cancer screening failure

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told MPs that officials are working to identify women living in Scotland that may be affected by a major breast cancer screening error.

A “computer algorithm failure” dating back to 2009 has meant hundreds of thousands of women aged 68 to 71 were not invited to their final routine screening.

It is not yet known whether any delay in diagnosis resulted in avoidable death, but it is estimated that between 135 and 270 women had their lives shortened as a result.

The issue primarily affects those living in England, but in answer to a question from the SNP Mr Hunt said his department was working with the Scottish government to identify any women who may have moved north of the border.

SNP frontbencher Dr Philippa Whitford (pictured) said: “As the Secretary of State says this issue did not apply in Scotland, but some of the women affected may now have moved and settled in Scotland, I would like to know when did he inform the Scottish government?

“He talks about the Department of Health knowing in January, as far as I can tell officers in Scotland were informed of a minor issue in March and only told last week that actually this was more major and not told that it might affect women who now live in Scotland.

“There’s clearly been preparation and talk about funding in England but how many women have been identified that live in Scotland and what preparations for funding or expansion of services have been made for Scotland and indeed the other devolved nations?”

She added: “Will women who do not receive a letter in the next four weeks also be able to phone or can the Secretary of State really guarantee that if you don’t hear by the end of the month you’re clear? As a doctor I find that a bit scary.”

Mr Hunt responded: “I will let her know the exact date the Scottish government or Scottish government officials were informed. I want to reassure her that if there are any additional costs to the Scottish health system they will of course be recompensed.

“We don’t think it will create major pressures in the Scottish screening programme and we are confident that we will be able to contact everyone in the UK who is registered with a GP, whether in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland or England by the end of May.”

He added: “We’ve had very productive discussions with Scottish officials about the IT exchange that’s going to be necessary to do them so that people living in Scotland would also get their letters by the end of May.

“We can’t guarantee that absolutely every single one of those women will be contacted by the end of May, there’ll be some who’ve moved abroad, some who are not registered with a GP for whatever reason but we think we can get the vast majority of people.”

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