NHS Admits To Serious Breast Cancer Screening Errors


The Law Of…Screening Errors And The NHS

In a recent story by the BBC a survivor of breast cancer and a man whose wife had died from the disease voiced their anger over NHS computer errors which led to 450,000 people missing their cancer screening tests.

Geoffrey Simpson-Scott, Partner in Clinical Negligence, explains the story and what to do if you have been affected by this failing on the part of the NHS.

Outrage After Missed Breast Cancer Screenings

Any woman aged 50 to 70 is supposed to be invited by the NHS for a mammogram every three years. However, roughly 450,000 women between the ages of 68 and 71 have failed to receive invitations from as far back as 2009.

The issue was initially spotted by Public Health England back in January during an analysis the Age X trail data.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the error was caused by a "computer algorithm failure".

While it has not yet known if this failure has directly caused the deaths of any women, Mr Hunt commented that this gross failing could have "Shortened the lives of up to 270 women".

Patricia Minchin, a breast cancer survivor, commented that her "traumatic journey" dealing with cancer could have been "avoided" had she been screened earlier. Another person, Brian Gough, stated that he believed his wife Trixie, who died in 2015 as a result of breast cancer, might have survived if she'd been diagnosed sooner.

Communication Errors In Healthcare

Failing to receive the correct information from the NHS can be quite distressing, especially when it leads to illnesses being left undiagnosed for years like in the cases above.

In the case of the breast cancer screenings, two mistakes were made: Firstly, the IT error which caused the failure to contact patients for their check-up screenings. The second failing, which is much harder to justify on the part of the NHS, was the failure to realise that the number of women between certain ages attending screenings had declined, falling below what would normally be expected.

These errors are more likely to be classified as administrative failings, rather than failings in exercising clinical skill. Broadly speaking, this should result in early admissions of liability. Patients would be better placed relying on a clinical negligence claim if they were affected by either of these failings and decide to pursue legal action. 

The real complex issue in claiming for a failing such as this is proving that the error caused the underlying cancer to worsen. This requires a strict legal test, as well as expert advice from an oncologist in order to prove that the cancer did indeed worsen as a result of the breakdown in communication.

Always Talk To Your Doctor First

If you've been affected by the NHS' failure to contact you for a breast cancer screening, it's important to speak to your doctor first if you have any concerns regarding past or current treatment. Any patients already impacted should expect to receive a letter updating them by the end of May 2018. 

The NHS has a legal duty to be open and honest. So if you are considering claiming, or even just getting more information, a formal letter of complaint is the best way to start proceedings if you think you have been put at risk, followed by contacting a specialist medical negligence solicitor to help get your claim started.

Geoffrey Comments:

"This raises concerning questions about the support procedures the NHS has in place. Clinical governance is an integral part of patient safety and failings such as this undermine our trust in the NHS and the excellent work done by the majority of doctors and nurses. These issues should be answered quickly as patient safety is of paramount importance. Issuing clear guidance now will allay fears and save clinicians’ time and reduce costs to the NHS."

Have You Been Affected By NHS Contact Errors?

If you have been affected by the recent screening appointment errors, leading to an underlying condition having grown worse, or have any queries regarding a clinical negligence claim, then contact our specialists today.

Our Clinical Negligence team can answer any questions you may have about the claims process. Get in touch using our freephone number, or through our online enquiry form.

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