NHS Scotland IT Glitch Causes 1,800 Women to Miss Breast Cancer Screenings

NHS Scotland IT Glitch

The Scottish Health Minister has apologised for a computer error in the NHS mailing system that led to 1,762 women missing vital breast screenings with some appointments delayed by up to three years.

Problems with the NHS’ automated mailing system meant that nearly 1,800 women were ignored and not invited to be screened for breast cancer.

A review of the Scottish Breast Screening Programme found that, as a result of an NHS Scotland IT glitch, 1,762 women were not invited for their final appointment by the time they had reached 71 years of age. The system also failed to flag that the women had not had their final appointment. The potentially deadly delay meant some women waited up to three years for an appointment. Normally, women who are between 50 and 70 years of age are routinely invited to be screened. The oversight was only discovered after checks were ordered following the announcement by Public Health England in May that 450,000 women had not been invited to final screenings since 2009.

Angela Harris, head of Breast Cancer Care Scotland, said: “Only four months after appalling errors emerged in the breast screening system in England, it is absolutely shocking to hear that women in Scotland have too been failed – thousands will be left anxious and confused about whether they’re affected.”

Full Impact of Glitch Remains Unknown

Jeremy Hunt, the then Health Secretary said at the time 270 women in England may have had their lives shortened due to this failure. The full scale of the catastrophic mishap in Scotland is unclear as the Scottish Government are unable to say how many in the same age group had since died or whose lives had been shortened – the 1,761 figure relates only to the women who are still alive.

Baroness Delyth Morgan, chief executive of the Breast Cancer Now charity, said: “For any women that may have gone on to develop breast cancers that could have been picked up earlier through screening, this could be a devastating error.”

NHS screening centres are working to make contact and arrange appointments with the affected women. According to the Scottish government, the missed appointment should not affect routine breast check-ups.

Health Secretary Jeane Freemen said she apologised fully to the women involved and acknowledged it would be a worrying time for them. She added: “Resources have been put in place to ensure they are screened promptly and offered any wider support needed.

“This additional screening will not delay other women attending their routine appointments. I have been clear that we must learn from this and act to minimise the risk of similar incidents in future.”

Janice Preston, head of services for Macmillan in Scotland, added: “We must learn from any mistakes that were made to ensure this situation is avoided in the future.”

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