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Charity’s dismay over cancer screening blunder which ‘shortened lives’

PUBLISHED: 17:04 02 May 2018 | UPDATED: 18:13 02 May 2018

Nikki Morris, deputy chief executive of the Big C.

Nikki Morris, deputy chief executive of the Big C.

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A Norfolk charity has expressed its dismay after it was revealed a breast cancer screening error meant hundreds of women’s lives may have been cut short.

The health secretary Jeremy hunt revealed in the House of Commons yesterday that an estimated 450,000 women aged between 68 and 71 were not invited to their final breast screening, which may have led to hundreds of missed cancer diagnoses.

Mr Hunt apologised “wholeheartedly and unreservedly for the suffering caused” on behalf of the government, Public Health England and the NHS.

He told MPs that all those living in the UK who are registered with a GP would be contacted before the end of May, with the first 65,000 letters going out this week.

The letters will tell women under 72 they will automatically be sent an invitation to a catch-up screening, and those aged 72 and over will be given access to a helpline to decide whether a screening is appropriate for their particular situation.

Around 900 people a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in Norfolk and Waveney and on average 230 will die every year.

Women aged between 50 - 70 are supposed to be invited for screenings for the disease automatically every three years.

The health secretary said there was a “failure” stretching back to 2009 with a computer algorithm used to send invitations.

At this stage the best estimate available indicates there may have been between 135 and 270 women who “had their lives shortened as a result”, Mr Hunt said.

Nikki Morris, deputy chief executive at Norfolk and Waveney’s cancer charity Big C, said: “We are of course very concerned. Staff at our Big C support and information centres and via our telephone support line are available to support any local women or their families who may be worried after hearing this news story.

“This also highlights the importance of the breast screening programme and Big C urges all eligible women to attend breast screening appointments when invited and if symptoms arise at any time, to visit your GP.”

Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of charity Breast Cancer Care, added: “Hundreds of thousands of women across England have been failed by this appalling error and some have had their lives shortened as a result.

“It is shocking that almost a decade has passed before this mistake was discovered. Women affected and their loved ones will be left reeling, both scared and confused. The number one priority now must be to ensure that they get all the support and information they need.

“This incompetence must not be allowed to happen again. All eligible women must be offered the opportunity to attend screening and be guaranteed the information they need to make their own minds up.”

• For more information on how to access Big C support services, visit www.big-c.co.uk/support or call 0800 092 7640 Monday to Friday, 9.30am to 4.30pm, or Wednesdays and Fridays 6pm to 7.30pm.

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