Report details failings behind U.K. breast screening debacle

A new report examining the reasons behind this year's U.K. breast screening debacle pins the blame on an error made in 2013 that continued undetected for five years, according to an article published online on 9 September by Health Service Journal (HSJ).

The controversy erupted in April 2018 when Public Health England announced that due to a computer failure, tens of thousands of women did not receive invitations to a final round of breast screening. Initial estimates were that 270 women may have died of breast cancer as a result of the omission, but that number was later revised downward to no more than 75.

The new article in HSJ describes an internal review performed by consulting firm PwC for Public Health England that the website said it obtained. According to the report, a "small but significant mistake" was made by the program in 2013 regarding which women should be screened.

It's unclear how the mistake was made, due to a lack of documentation and audit trail regarding how decisions were made in the program, according to the article. The story noted that responsibility for running the program was switched to a new agency in 2013, although it wasn't clear if the change was responsible for the error.

One major question about the controversy is the extent to which it is related to the AgeX trial, a clinical trial that began in 2009 to determine whether breast screening in the U.K. should be offered to women up to age 73, the article noted. The PwC report does not appear to lay major blame on the AgeX trial, but an internal audit that's being completed by Public Health England reportedly puts more emphasis on AgeX as a potential contributor to the fiasco.

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