Medical Negligence

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Computer Glitch Causes 450,000 Women To Miss Final Routine Breast Cancer Screening

View profile for Malcolm Underhill
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Health Minister, Jeremy Hunt, has launched an urgent independent inquiry after revelations that up to 270 women may have died after being affected by a 2009 computer error that caused 450,000 women to miss crucial breast cancer screenings[1].

The admission was made in the House of Commons this morning; Mr Hunt apologised to the 309,000 women still alive who were affected by the computer algorithm failure:

For them and others it is incredibly upsetting to know that you did not receive an invitation for screening at the correct time and totally devastating to hear you may have lost or be about to lose a loved one because of administrative incompetence[2].

He went on to say:

Irrespective of when the incident started, the fact is for many years oversight of our screening programme has not been good enough.

"Many families will be deeply disturbed by these revelations, not least because there will be some people who receive a letter having had a recent diagnosis of breast cancer.

Breast Cancer Screening in England and Wales

All women aged 50 to 70 and registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years[3].  Women who are eligible should receive a letter automatically generated from their GP to notify them of the screening.  It is well established that the earlier breast cancer is detected, the greater the chance of survival[4].

Women affected who are under 75 will be offered a catch-up screening, and this will occur in the next six months.

Mr Hunt said the department would contact the families of women who had died of breast cancer whom they believed missed a screening, to apologise, and offer a process to establish whether the missed scan was a likely cause of death, and whether compensation might be payable.  “We recognise this will be incredibly distressing for some families,” he said.

The issue became known because of an upgrade to the breast screening invitation IT system.  Mr Hunt said Public Health England first alerted the Department of Health to the problem in January and said urgent work to ensure the error was fixed had been completed.

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told the Guardian newspaper, she was shocked at the implications of the error, saying more than 18,000 cancers were detected as a result of the breast screening programme which might not have been detected as early otherwise.

She said: “The priority should not be to establish blame, but to put measures in place to invite those women affected for screening, where appropriate; to ensure there are enough resources in the system to cope with any additional demand that might follow as a result; and to take steps to ensure this never happens again. In the meantime, we urge women not to panic and await further information[5]”.

What to do if your Breast Screening has Been Missed

If you are one of the women whose breast screening was missed, and as a result your cancer was detected late, was advanced, or came back, you may be eligible to receive financial compensation.

The first step is to contact a personal injury solicitor, who can advise you on whether you have a potential compensation claim.  There will undoubtedly be women whose cancers could have been caught at an early stage and dealt with before they could do serious harm, who have died instead or are now terminally ill.  They and their families need care and support, as well as answers to how such a tragic breach of duty could have occurred in the NHS breast screening programme.

Our personal injury team, led by Malcolm Underhill, has the expertise and knowledge to advise and represent you if you wish to make a claim for personal injury regarding a missed breast cancer final screen. To talk about how we might be able to help, please phone us on 0333 123 9099, email us at or fill in our contact form.  Any discussions you have with us will be in the strictest of confidence and handled with the utmost sensitivity.


[2] Ibid




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