Hospital faces fifth inquiry after breast screening error

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More than 100,000 breast scans carried out over nine years at one of Britain's leading cancer centres are to be re-examined after a potentially fatal error was discovered.

More than 100,000 breast scans carried out over nine years at one of Britain's leading cancer centres are to be re-examined after a potentially fatal error was discovered.

Fears that cancerous tumours may have been overlooked were raised after one woman, who had left the area, was found to have received a misdiagnosis from the West London Breast Screening Service, run by the Hammersmith Hospital Trust. A trust spokesman said the woman's file was "put on the wrong pile" and given an all-clear after the x-ray had been processed at Charing Cross Hospital when she should have been told to return for further tests. The woman is fit and well and always has been.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, the auditor and management consultancy, is to receive £200,000 to conduct the investigation - the fifth inquiry in five years into mismanagement at Hammersmith's radiology department.

The trust spokesman said: "This time they will be looking at 103,000 files going back over nine years. Breast screenings take place every three years, so there will be something to compare each result with."

A report from a previous investigation of the radiology department gave the impression of a regime in chaos. Accusations that staff do not communicate properly with each other were traced to a territorial dispute between two professors, one of whom has now left.

The first inquiry was provoked by a backlog of thousands of unread x-ray reports and the second uncovered the fact that 3.7 per cent of scans within the department did not receive a diagnosis.

The findings from the third investigation, ordered by the Government and conducted by Ian Cameron, vice-chancellor of the University of Wales Medical School, have not been published. A separate independent review, last month, involvedone patient, Eve Acorn, a teacher from Greenford, west London, who had misdiagnoses on two malignant growths. She was told by the screening service in 1995 that a tumour was benign, but found out later it was malignant. Then in 1998 she had to wait six months before a second malignant growth was removed.

She told a Sunday newspaper: "I do not feel they have learnt anything from the treatment I received. If I had not complained I would probably be dead by now."

A spokesman for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund said: "It's terrible when these things happen because it worries people who have been to the hospital and it actually puts people off going - which it shouldn't."

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