The government has announced that an IT error in 2009 meant that many women aged between 68-71 did not receive invitations for their final breast cancer screening between 2009 to early 2018. The error was not picked up until January 2018, and the public were not informed until now. The government estimates that there are approximately 450,000 people who have missed their invitation for a final scan.
Women aged between 50-70 are automatically invited for breast screening every three years as the risk of developing breast cancer increases with age.
Jeremy Hunt told the Commons that people would be eligible for compensation if, because of a failing by the NHS, they have suffered harm. He said there would be a process to establish whether a missed scan was likely to have caused a patient’s death. At this stage, the details of the process or scheme is not available and it is unclear what proof is required for any women who had a missed scan and subsequently developed breast cancer.
The Government also announced that there will be an inquiry into the failure. Regardless of how the IT failure occurred, it would be considered to be a system failure. This means that it would not be necessary for the patient to prove a mistake had occurred. It seems however it is still necessary for the patients to prove that the delay had an impact on that individual patient’s outcome or had caused avoidable harm. For some of the women, the impact of delay could be a terminal diagnosis or death. For others, it could mean more invasive or painful treatment (a mastectomy as opposed to a lumpectomy for example) or complications of treatment which could have been avoided with earlier diagnosis (such as neuropathy following chemotherapy). It could also mean psychiatric distress of knowing of the delay and the consequences of the delay.
The value of the compensation claim would depend on the individual circumstances, including a) the effect of the delay on the outcome which could in turn vary from individual to individual and according to the characteristics of the cancer, b) the patient’s financial circumstances, c) whether they were working at the time when missed scanning occurred, d) whether they have any dependants and e) their contribution to their family (in addition to financial contributions, this may include contributions such as caring for young children, housework, etc.).
Delay in diagnosis is one of the most common causes of action in clinical negligence cases involving breast cancer. Other than failures in screening, other mistakes could be caused by failure by GP in referring the patients to a specialist for investigation for suspected cancer, misdiagnosis or poor surgery. Earlier diagnosis usually means the patients are at an earlier stage of breast cancer. This means that any tumour is less extensive and it is less likely that there will be lymph node involvement. This in turn could lead to better treatment, lower recurrence risk and increased chance of long term survival.
Any delay in diagnosis claim would usually involve comparing the outcome following actual diagnosis to what would have been the likely outcome, had treatment been provided earlier. Expert evidence will usually be required to help determine issues including the characteristics of the tumour and the likely outcome. Over many years, Thomson Snell & Passmore has worked with leaders in the field of oncology, and can help to find the right experts and specialists.
If you are concerned that either you or your loved ones have missed screening as a result of the error, you should contact the helpline set up by NHS 0800 169 2692 to ensure that screening takes place as soon as possible.
Thomson Snell & Passmore has considerable experience in cases involving diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. If you would like to talk to someone in the clinical negligence department about a possible misdiagnosis of, or delay in the treatment of breast cancer please contact 01892 701516