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Nearly 4,000 breast cancer screening invitations missed in 2016, Tories reveal

Conservative MSP Jamie Greene raised the figures with Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions.

Almost 4,000 women were identified in 2016 as not having been sent routine invitations for breast screening, an MSP has highlighted.

Conservative MSP Jamie Greene raised the figures, contained in a review published in December that year by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS), as he sought assurances the screening programme’s IT system is “fit for purpose”.

It comes as the Scottish Government revealed last week 1,761 women aged over 70 were being contacted by the NHS after it emerged they were not invited for breast screening appointments, with the length of delay ranging from a few months to three years.

That followed a review carried out after a “significant incident” in England meant an estimated 450,000 women were not invited to final screenings between 2009 and 2018.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she believed the situation in 2016 was a “separate issue”.

The HIS report stated it carried out a review of the Scottish breast screening programme between June and December 2016 after an investigation identified that 3,831 women across Scotland “had not received breast screening invitations in line with standard timescales”.

The women had not attended a breast screening appointment for between three and more than nine years, the report states.

Highlighting the document during First Minister’s Questions, Mr Greene claimed the latest issue with screening appointments was “predictable”. 

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Mr Greene sought assurances the screening programme’s IT system is ‘fit for purpose’ (Conservatives/PA)

He told Ms Sturgeon: “In 2016 a review by Healthcare Improvement Scotland found that nearly 4,000 women had not been sent screening invitations.

“As a result, it made a number of recommendations, one of which was better oversight of that IT system.

“In May this year the former health secretary (Shona Robison) told this chamber that, ‘I want to reassure members of the public that this issue does not affect the NHS in Scotland and patients should be reassured that there are no problems with the programme records or the IT system’. 

“So can I ask why was the 2016 recommendation ignored? And what reassurances can she give today that the screening programme IT system is fit for purpose?” 

Ms Sturgeon replied: “In relation to the 2016 issue, my understanding is that this is a separate issue and therefore I’m not sure it is accurate to say that this was – to use the word that was used – predictable.”

She said Ms Robison had sought and received assurances the situation in England was not being repeated in Scotland and she insisted it was because of the actions taken by the former health secretary that the latest issue came to light.

Women in Scotland are generally invited to come forward for the screening, which is carried out to try and detect breast cancer before symptoms are noticed, between the ages of 50 and 70, every three years.

Ms Sturgeon apologised to the women recently affected and said it amounted to 0.2% of the 700,000 women eligible for breast screening.

Those affected have all been contacted and are being offered appointments for screening before the end of October this year, the First Minister confirmed.

She added work is also being carried out “to develop an IT fix”.

The Scottish Government said that, following the discovery of an issue with the breast screening invitation system in 2016, all women affected received letters inviting them to screening.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland was commissioned to carry out a review which led to the implementation of a new IT system with specific safeguards to address the issues behind the incident.

A spokeswoman said: “The recent incident was due to a separate issue concerning the age cohort for breast screening.

“We are working to develop an IT solution to the underlying issue and in the mean time manual checks are in place within local breast screening centres to ensure no more women are missed for this reason.

“These checks will continue until the Health Secretary is assured that the current issue is resolved.”

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