Almost 14,000 women have contacted a helpline which offers advice to those who believe an IT error may have caused them to miss their final breast cancer screening.
Jeremy Hunt told MPs last week that a “computer algorithm failure”, which dated back to 2009, meant a group of women were not sent routine screening invitations before the cut off point of their 71st birthday.
Speaking in the House of Commons on 8 May, the health and social care secretary gave an update, confirming he had met Duncan Selbie, chief executive at Public Health England – which runs the breast screening programme – to review the situation.
Hunt said: “I am informed 65,000 letters were sent out last week and the helpline has taken nearly 14,000 calls to date. Further letters are going out this week.”
He said the government will be providing “advice and support” to women who missed their scans and help them make their own decision as to whether to have a so-called “catch up scan”, due to there being a “lack of clinical consensus about the effectiveness of screening for older women”.
All women aged 50 to 70 who are registered with a GP are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years as part of the programme.
However it is believed that, due to the IT error, an estimated 450,000 women aged between 68 and 71 were not invited to their final breast screening between 2009 and the start of 2018.
Initial estimates, which Hunt said are based on “clinical modelling rather than patient reviews”, have suggested that between 135 and 270 women may have “had their lives shortened as a result”.
An independent review is due to be carried out with Hunt saying the findings should be published within six months.
Speaking on 8 May, he said: “I can assure the House that no stone will be left unturned in uncovering the truth.”