According to the British Medical Association (BMA), a computer error has resulted in almost 50,000 women in the UK to miss information about their cervical cancer screening. The system is part of an outsourced contract with Capita. It’s been reported that most of the patients that were affected by the error missed their invitations or reminders about their screenings. However, nearly 10% of the letters included warnings about abnormal results, which may have needed further investigation.
Capita has since confirmed that a total of 47,708 women were affected by the error, which has been labelled “a shambles” by MP’s. It follows reports earlier in the year the firm had failed to send thousands of invitations to women across the country. BMA’s GP committee, Dr. Richard Vautrey said in an interview: “This is an incredibly serious situation, and it is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error on the part of Capita.”
He added: “Some women will now be left extremely anxious because they have not received important correspondence, particularly letters about abnormal smear test results that need urgent follow up. This has been caused solely by Capita’s incompetence.” We went on to explain that the BMA has written to GP’s, explaining that patients may have missed appointments in light of these problems, and that invites have now been sent.
Considering the decline in the uptake of smear tests in the UK, these types of errors could have serious implications. Cervical cancer screening is essential for catching abnormal cells early, and providing the right treatment. “Frankly it is appalling that thousands of women have been affected by this system failure,” said Robert Music, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, a group involved in campaigns to increase the number of screenings.
But, according to the trust, the issues seen are “not surprising”. The group has warned that the system used for screening, which has been in place since 2011, is not adequate. It noted: “This is a disgrace and the fact that it is now affecting women both in terms of being invited and getting their results is completely unacceptable. An urgent review must be conducted to ensure that our cervical screening programme is safe and future proofed.”
An NHS England spokesperson responded: “Capita has alerted NHS England to an administrative failure in its processing of cervical screening, which means some women have not received invitation, reminder and result letters when they should have. Every woman’s case is being reviewed, but there is no current evidence that this incident has led to harm to the women involved, and our priority now is to ensure that anyone affected by this incident is contacted, and knows how to get checked if they are due a cervical screen.”