U.K. reduces tally of women affected by screening blunder

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The U.K. breast screening blunder has apparently not affected as many women as initially feared, according to a statement made this week by government officials. The latest estimate is that as many as 75 women may have died as a result of not being screened, compared with an initial estimate of as many as 270.

The problem came to light in early May, when Public Health England (PHE) disclosed that due to a computer error as many as 450,000 women ages 68 to 71 were not invited to their final round of breast screening. Public health authorities estimated based on computer models that between 135 and 270 women could have died due to the error.

But in an update to Parliament on 4 June, U.K. Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Jeremy Hunt noted that the error did not affect as many women as initially estimated and there were fewer estimated deaths as well. PHE now estimates that the problem affected 174,000 women, of whom up to 130,000 are still alive.

Authorities also now believe that the number of women who may have had their lives shortened by missing their final round of breast screening is no more than 75.

"Whilst this figure is lower than the original estimates given in my statement, this does not lessen the devastating impact that this has had on some people's lives," Hunt said.

Hunt also detailed the steps that PHE and National Health Service (NHS) have taken to ensure that women affected by the error are screened. In all, 195,565 women who are registered with general physicians were contacted by PHE as of May 18, and as of 1 June, 26,774 women had received appointments for screening, with hundreds already screened. A dedicated help line has received 46,000 calls.

Hunt reiterated the government's commitment to catch up on the screenings, with the NHS putting in 68,000 appointments to make sure that all women who want a screening exam can get one by October. In addition, an independent review has been commissioned to investigate how the error happened, he announced.

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