Up to 270 feared dead in shocking NHS breast cancer computer glitch

Sandra Little Brown

British Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Parliament that 450,000 women missed out on breast screenings after a "computer algorithm failure" stopped letters from being sent to them, reminding them to have a check-up.

Up to 270 women may have had their lives shortened as a result, according to estimates.

PHE has invited them all to receive the screening.

Screening is a procedure which allows doctors to catch breast cancer while it is still in its infancy and therefore easier to treat.

He said the current estimate based on statistical modelling is that "there may be between 135 and 270 women who had their lives shorten [ed] as a result".

Two years later she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"On behalf of NHS [National Health Service] breast screening services, we apologise to the women affected and we are writing to them to offer a catch-up screening appointment", PHE Deputy Medical Director Jenny Harries said in a statement.

Screening programmes are run separately across the United Kingdom and so this issue only affects women registered with a GP in England.

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Women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are now automatically invited forbreast cancer screening every three years.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the Health and Social Care Secretary said the affected group of women were not sent invitations before their 71 birthday because "there was a computer algorithm failure", which dated back to 2009.

While it's well-known that a lump in the breast could be a sign of the disease, there are many lesser-known symptoms that women (and indeed, men) should be aware of, as treatment is more successful if it's detected early. For women aged 72 and over, a helpline to decide if a screening is appropriate will be available.

The estimated 309,000 women who are still alive and living in the United Kingdom will be contacted, with 65,000 letters being sent out this week.

Mr Hunt said the issue first came to light in January but Sky News understands the full scale of the failure only became clear in the last few days.

"We also need to get to the bottom of precisely how many people were affected, why it happened and most importantly how we can prevent it from ever happening again".

Brian Gough, 77, from near Aylsham said his wife, Trixie, who died aged 76 never received a letter inviting her to go for routine screening in 2009 - and that after she later found a lump, a scan in October 2010 revealed she had stage three breast cancer.

Hunt also stated that any women who would like a mammogram will receive one within six months.

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