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Cancer screening scandal: My mum's story proves technology cannot replace one-to-one care

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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Cancer screening scandal: My mums story proves technology cannot replace one-to-one care

Are we becoming over reliant on IT systems and simply ignoring human observations?

On Wednesday, it was revealed that up to 270 women in England may have died because they did not receive invitations to a final routine breast cancer screening, due to an IT error.

It is of huge concern that Public Health England were notified of the problems with the screening programme as early as March 2017 but were told that this must have been a local matter, not national, following advice from the IT providers.

The algorithm, which is being blamed for the errors, has caused over 450,000 women to have been denied the opportunity to have the vital and necessary screening for breast cancer.  The NHS’s breast screening service is intended to be offered to all women aged between 50 and 70, every three years.

It is also alarming that the problem dates back to 2009 and yet only in 2018 acknowledgement of the issues are accepted.  Why was this not spotted and actioned upon sooner?

One-in-eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime and early diagnosis and treatment is vital to have the opportunity for more successful treatment and an improved chance of recovery.  The breast screening programme was introduced in 2013 to increase the detection of breast cancer at an early stage.

An independent review has now been commissioned and will be chaired by the CEO of Macmillan Cancer Support and Professor Martin Gore, Oncologist, and it is expected to report back in six months to see what further checks and balances can be implemented to reduce or eliminate any repetition of this incident.

I would strongly encourage anyone who may be affected by this to contact the helpline on 0800 169 2692 or your GP to seek advice.

Screening is vital. 

On a personal note, my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago following a routine screening appointment.  No lump was palpable or visible and she displayed no signs of discomfort or tenderness.  As a result of the screening programme, breast cancer was detected at a very early stage and before it had the opportunity to spread to a larger area and to the lymph nodes. 

My mum required an initial biopsy procedure followed by wider excision surgery and has regular screening to ensure that the cancer has not returned.  If my mum, who is within the upper age limit of the programme - aged 71 - had been one of the very unfortunate ladies who had been affected by the IT error, then her cancer would not have been detected and she would have suffered a far worse prognosis.

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