Radiologist Failed to Notice Breast Cancers on Mammograms

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Whistleblowers Exposed Substandard Screening

Two women died after previously being told they did not have breast cancer at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary's (RLI) breast screening unit. The unit now has a clean bill of health, but confidential data recently released showed 10 cases of cancer were not picked up by one radiologist at the RLI prior to 2011. An investigation by ITV News 2015 found the breast screening unit missed fourteen cancers between 2005-2011.

Cancer Cells

Whistleblowers exposed the sub-standard breast screening at University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust - where 11 babies and one mother died due to poor care and neglect. The Trust asked Public Health England (PHE) to carry out a review of the breast screening services in May 2014.

A report published by Public Health England (PHE) last November, highlighted serious concerns about management arrangements and working relations within the department. The investigation warned that if the culture within the unit was not immediately addressed there would be a serious impact on the future safety of the service. PHE has since published an annexe to the report, which concluded that one radiologist's performance prior to 2011 was "sub-optimal" and in some cases substandard.

Concern has been raised by County Councillor, Azhar Ali, cabinet member with responsibility for health and wellbeing, who has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt asking for an independent review. In his letter to Mr Hunt, Coun Ali said he had "deep concerns" about the manner in which a whistleblowing incident within the breast cancer screening unit was being addressed. He said:

"In spite of various recommendations by Public Health England to improve the quality of the screening programme, the actions to address the recommendations in a comprehensive manner appear to be far from satisfactory."

"Crucially, the whistleblowers seem to have been completely excluded from the improvement actions."

"It is becoming very apparent that there are some deep seated cultural and management issues within the breast cancer screening unit including a dismissive environment that could hamper patient safety"

Importance of Screening

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK. But it can usually be treated and cured if it's found early. Breast screening is a way of finding a breast cancer when it is too small to see or feel. It involves having a mammogram, which is a type of x-ray. All women registered with a GP aged 50–70 (or 47-73 in England) will be invited to be screened every three years. It's rare for women under 50 to develop breast cancer so they aren't automatically screened.

Breast screening cannot prevent cancers - It can only find cancers that are already there.

Research estimates that breast screening can reduce deaths by up to 20%. If a cancer is found, it is often very small and hasn't spread. This means it is usually easier to treat. However, there are some disadvantages of screening, for example there is a chance of being diagnosed and treated for a breast cancer that would not have caused any problems. It can also be uncomfortable and cause worry for lots of women.


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