The tragedy of screening failure

Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck

MPs in the House of Commons were stunned last week to hear Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt reveal a failing in the breast screen programme, which potentially has put the lives of women at risk because of a computer system glitch.

Mr Hunt announced that as many as 405,000 women in the 68 to 71 years old age range had not received letters inviting them to attend what would have been their final screening over a nine-year period starting in 2009.

The figures relating to the implications of what that might mean for women affected are unclear, but it is feared that as many as 270 might have died prematurely because of the failings of an IT system.

Many more will have had to endure unpleasant invasive treatment as a result of tumours being diagnosed late.

Public Health England, which oversees the screening programme, gave the job of running its software to a Texan-based firm in 2015.

The blame game as to who knew what and when about the failings has already swung into action, with lawyers talking about millions of pounds being paid out in compensation to women affected by the blunder.

That is all well and good, but the real tragedy is that the lives of so many women have been, and will still be, affected.

What needs to be done immediately is that any woman who has been missed out of the screening programme through no fault of her own must be seen without delay and hopefully given the reassurance that her health is perfectly fine, or if it is not, she must be given the treatment she needs.

At this stage I have no information about the number of women in our Wansbeck constituency who may have been affected, but if anyone has any concerns they must contact the helpline without delay.

Steps must also be taken to ensure that a failing such as this in such a vital area of healthcare never happens again.