The women were omitted from a computer database used by three Scottish health boards to record the results of screening and recall women for further tests. Some 627 abnormal smear results were not followed up, it is believed.
Susan Deacon, the Scottish Health Minister, said: "The priority now is the women whose last smear result was abnormal and who may require follow-ups. An abnormal smear is not at all uncommon and does not mean that a woman has cancer."
Health board managers appearing with her in Edinburgh yesterday refused to say what had caused the error, pending an inquiry. The three boards involved are Tayside, Forth Valley and Fife.
When asked if the problem had contributed to any woman getting cervical cancer, Dr Malcolm McWhirter, the director of public health for Forth Valley Health Board, said: "I have to say we do not yet know."
Ms Deacon said women who had had a smear in the past five years were not affected. A telephone helpline has been set up on 0800 783 4183 to provide further information.Reuse content