THE CANCER breast screening scandal has been exacerbated by news that the call handlers on the hotline set up by health secretary Jeremy Hunt and run by private contractor Serco had an hour’s training and were required to tick off a check list of symptoms. Hunt announced the hotline last Wednesday after admitting 450,000 women between 68 and 71 had not received letters inviting them for a final breast cancer screening and that 270 lives may have been cut short as a result.
BMA member Anna Athow commented yesterday: ‘To find that there was no preparation for the urgent telephone calls of these desperate women, and that they are being fobbed off with talking to Serco call handlers with an hour and a half’s training, shows the highest contempt for these patients.
‘Worse, it appears that call handlers were supposed to be giving clinical advice to patients about what to do on the basis of their symptoms, through a hastily put together spread sheet of clinical guidelines.’
Athow stressed: ‘The cancelling of invitations for breast screening for 450,000 women from 2009 to date, is absolutely scandalous. ‘Public Health England (PHE) was informed in March 2017, by at least two trusts, that women in the 68 to 71 year age groups were not being sent their letters. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that PHE only found out in January 2018 and he made his statement to parliament on the 2nd May. ‘It was obvious there was going to be massive worry amongst women in this age group who had missed their screening mammograms. ‘It is also obvious there has been a massive cover up going on.
‘The whole strength of screening is that it is able to detect cancers in the breast in women with few if any symptoms. Screening can detect small and early cancers that give rise to no symptoms at all.
‘The very idea of asking call handlers to assess symptoms and then give advice is outrageous in the first place. These patients should all be offered the screening mammograms they missed, and not have to wait 6 months for them. That is the least that PHE should have urgently organised. ‘The fact that they covered this up for so long and now show that they do not want to offer patients immediate urgent mammograms, shows that NHS England is not the slightest bit interested in improving cancer care, but is determined to undermine and destroy it, in their drive for privatisation reforms.
‘The development of the national breast screening programme in 1988 was a huge gain of the NHS and has saved the lives of thousands of women. Cancers are much less likely to have spread to the lymph nodes and are responsive to complete cures, if they are picked up early.
‘Hunt has misled parliament and must resign,’ concluded Athow. The trade unions must act to bring the whole Tory gang down.