May 2, 2018 — Since 2009, approximately 450,000 women around age 70 in the United Kingdom did not receive final breast screening invitations due to a computer failure, according to a statement from Public Health England. The National Health Service (NHS) is now offering catch-up screening exams for up to 309,000 women ages 70-79 who missed the exam and are registered with a general practitioner (GP).
The routine NHS breast screening program invites more than 2.5 million women every year for a test. Women between the ages of 50 to 70 receive a screen every three years up to their 71st birthday. Around 2 million women take up the offer, according to Public Health England.
The computer problem was identified in January 2018 whilst reviewing the progress of the age extension trial (AgeX). It then became apparent that a similar impact has resulted from long-term problems with the routine program as well. In addition, some local services have not invited everyone for a final screen in the three years before their 71st birthday.
Public Health England said that all of the affected women will be contacted by the end of May. They estimate that all rescreenings will be completed by October 2018.
Jenny Harries, M.D., PHE deputy medical director said, “On behalf of NHS breast screening services, we apologize to the women affected and we are writing to them to offer a catch-up screening appointment. They and their families’ wellbeing is our top priority and we are very sorry for these faults in the system.
A complex IT problem with the breast screening invitation system has led to some women not being invited for their final screen between their 68th and 71st birthdays. We have carried out urgent work to identify the problem and have fixed it. Additional failsafe systems have been introduced to ensure the problem does not reoccur,” she continued.
“The RCR has great sympathy for those patients who have missed screening appointments as a result, and may now be very understandably concerned they could have undiagnosed cancer. We have been reassured that PHE is doing everything it can to manage the situation and help trusts arrange catch up appointments for women who have been missed, as well as setting up support for affected patients,” said Caroline Rubin, M.D., vice president for clinical radiology at the Royal College of Radiologists (RCR).
Rubin added that scheduling the thousands of missed appointments will likely put additional strain on breast screening units across the country, which a 2016 RCR survey found were experiencing staff shortages. The survey revealed 25 percent of breast screening units are operating with two or fewer radiologists.
For more information: www.gov.uk