A woman in Scozia has died from cervical cancer after more than 400 women were wrongly told they did not need to be screened.
Maree Todd, the Scottish public health minister, said a “serious adverse event” in a cervical cancer screening programme meant at least 430 women were not tested. Di quelli, a small number later developed cervical cancer, and one had since died.
In an announcement to Holyrood just before MSPs started their summer recess, Todd said all the unscreened women would be offered urgent appointments with their GPs or gynaecologists.
“I want to offer my condolences to the family of the woman who we now know died from cervical cancer after being excluded from the screening programme,” Todd said.
“These exclusions from the cervical screening programme should not have happened and I want to apologise to all those affected by this error. I offer my heartfelt apologies in particular to the women who were excluded from the programme who went on to develop cancer, and to their families.”
So far the affected women’s cases date back to 1997, many involving partial hysterectomies where part of their cervix was left in their abdomens. Those women were wrongly excluded from the screening programme. Todd admitted an as-yet-unknown number of other women who were treated before then could also be affected. Salute boards have been instructed to review their records, predating 1997.
Opposition MSPs challenged the minister to explain why the error, which emerged during a routine audit at an unnamed health board, had not been picked up before.
Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, disse: “This an extremely serious situation and our thoughts are with the women who have been affected. The truth is we do not yet know the full scale of this error but it could impact on many more women than those excluded from the screening programme since 1997.”
Baillie said cancer screening services were already overstretched coping with the backlog of around 180,000 delayed tests due to the Covid crisis. She said health boards deserved extra money to help deal with the additional workload.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrats’ health spokesman, disse: “This is a serious public health failure. It will be deeply alarming news to women across the country and it is a tragic reminder of the importance of robust screening programmes.
“We need to know how these screening errors went undetected for so long and escaped the eye of audit after audit.”
Todd said the charity Jo’s Cervical Cancro Trust had opened its helpline for enquiries for anyone concerned. She said the women affected would receive invitations for tests in the next few days.
NHS boards were putting in place fresh measures to ensure women were not wrongly excluded again. “It is important to stress that the overall risk of developing cervical cancer remains low and people should not be unduly alarmed,” Todd said.