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Smear test blunder ‘unacceptable’

Health minister Steve Brine said incidents of this kind undermine public confidence in NHS screening programmes as a whole.

Blunders made by a private company which resulted in more than 40,000 women not being sent the appropriate smear test information are unacceptable, health minister Steve Brine has said.

Capita has accepted full responsibility and apologised after 43,220 women did not receive cervical screening invitation and reminder letters inviting them to make a routine cervical screening appointment. In some cases women received neither.

A further 4,508 women were not sent letters informing them of the result of their cervical screening.

Mr Brine said Capita has confirmed that the incident was caused by files from its call and recall operations team not being correctly sent and uploaded to its print and despatch service between January and October.

In a written statement to MPs, he said: “Incidents of this type are not only unacceptable in terms of the impact they have on the women affected, but they also undermine public confidence in our screening programmes as a whole.

“For the majority of the 4,508 women who did not receive their result letter, their result was normal.

“However, 182 women had a result that required a follow-up test (colposcopy) and 252 women needed an early repeat screening test.”

He said that, in most instances, where the screening result requires further tests or treatments, the laboratory will usually refer the woman directly to a colposcopy clinic independently of the woman receiving her result letter from Capita.

For women needing early repeat testing, their GP routinely follows up these tests.

However, to make sure all women needing a colposcopy or an early repeat test are being managed correctly, every woman’s screening record is being checked to ensure they have been referred appropriately.

No harm has been identified to date, he said.

Capita has written to all the women who did not receive invitation or reminder letters and to those who did not get their normal result letter.

The GPs of women affected have also been informed so they can offer support to their patients.

Mr Brine went on: “The NHS cervical cancer screening programme saves an estimated 5,000 lives a year by detecting abnormalities of the cervix early and referring women for effective treatment.

“It is offered to women aged 25 to 49 every three years and those aged 50 to 64 every five years.

“Our priority is patient safety and we will be assembling a clinical board that will provide oversight for the cervical screening call and recall service. This will ensure that every part of the process has an in-depth review.”

NHS England has also announced it is undertaking an independent expert review of their screening programmes.

Capita said in a statement on Wednesday: “The risk to women of this incident is low and there is no current evidence of harm, but Capita nevertheless apologises to both the NHS and to the women whose correspondence was delayed.”

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