Fourteen women have been told they have breast cancer after a consultant conducted faulty mammograms, hospital bosses said today.
The women were given the devastating news after colleagues of the consultant, a senior radiologist working for East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, raised concerns about his work.
In all, 355 mammograms, going back three years, had to be re-checked by an independent review of breast screening assessment clinics carried out by a "quality assurance" team of medics.
Eighty-five women had to undergo a second breast examination, and 14 were told they had invasive breast cancer.
Another four women were diagnosed with a secondary breast condition, but medics insist their prognosis will not be affected by the wait. All the women are aged over 50.
Hospital chiefs said the prognosis for treating early stage breast cancer is "good" but it was not known whether the delay would harm their chances of recovery.
The review relates only to women who were called back to assessment clinics after potential abnormalities were identified, then discharged by the radiologist concerned without further testing.
Hospital bosses have issued a public apology and said no further cases are likely to be identified.
They say if patients have not been contacted by the trust so far, their results are not being called into question.
The radiologist in question is not at present working for the trust and is under investigation. His name has not been made public by the trust but he is understood to have been a long standing member of staff with considerable experience.
He was working at Accrington Victoria Hospital, where breast cancer screening is undertaken for the whole of East Lancashire.
The consultant has not conducted breast screenings since last December and not worked at the trust since April.
Some of the women affected are from Blackburn and Darwen but the majority live in Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle, Rossendale and the Ribble Valley.
Eighty-five women were asked to attend special clinics, where their cases were reviewed by senior consultants.
Eighteen cases - 14 invasive cancer and four for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) - were discovered as a result.
Now the 14 are undergoing further treatment. The four with DCIS had abnormal cells present in milk ducts but these had not spread to other breast tissue.
Rineke Schram, medical director of East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "On behalf of the trust, I would like to apologise for any distress and anxiety this incident has caused."
"The women involved are being kept fully informed of the situation. Any women who may be concerned should not hesitate to contact our helpline for further advice.
"I would like to reassure all women who visit East Lancashire Hospitals for initial mammograms that our concerns relate only to the secondary tests following screening by one individual doctor.
"All women considered by the North West Breast Screening Quality Assurance Team to be at possible risk have been identified and contacted. Anyone who has not been contacted by the trust can be assured that their breast screening assessment results are not affected by this.
"As a result of this incident, the trust has reviewed and scrutinised all guidelines and processes in the breast screening and assessment service, ensuring they are as robust as possible.
"We appointed a new director of breast screening in September last year, and the service performs extremely well, exceeding all Government targets for cancer detection."
All women over 50 are invited for breast cancer screening every three years under the NHS national screening programme.
Statistics from the 2008 NHS Breast Screening Annual Review show in 2006/7, the latest figures available, a total of 1.9 million women were screened and 83,728 were recalled for further treatment.
Around 46,000 women each year are diagnosed with breast cancer and around 12,000 die from the disease annually, according to Breast Cancer Care.
Breast cancer is the second biggest cause of death from cancer for women in the UK after lung cancer.
Dr Ellis Friedman, the regional director of the Breast Screening Quality Assurance Programme said: "In this incident in East Lancashire, 18 women have had their cancer diagnosed later than should have been the case.
"The incident team, which I chaired, has thoroughly reviewed the incident and will ensure that lessons will be learned.
"The public will wish to know if the service is safe, and I can confirm that the East Lancashire programme is meeting all the important quality and outcome standards set by the national programme."
Emma Pennery, clinical director at national charity Breast Cancer Care, said: "Despite the specific problems that this case has highlighted, it is important to stress that breast screening still remains one of the most effective ways of detecting breast cancer as soon as possible, and we would urge women to continue to attend their screening appointments."
East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have now commissioned a further independent review to provide further assurance and ensure lessons are learned for all NHS organisations, the trust said.
A helpline is now open daily from 7am to 10pm, on 01254 732093, along with an email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Breast Cancer Care also have a free helpline on 0808 800 6000.Reuse content