National alert after breast cancer error

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The Independent Online
ALL 90 breast-cancer screening units in England have been asked to check their clerical systems after errors at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham led to six women being told that their breast screen was normal, when they should have been recalled for further tests.

The errors came to light when two women returned to the South Birmingham Acute Unit last week with breast lumps. One had been screened 13 months previously, the other six weeks beforehand.

A check of their X-rays showed both should have been recalled for further tests. The film had been read properly and a recall had been ordered. But when the information was typed into the computer which sends out the test appointments, the screening result had been entered as normal - and letters sent giving the women the all- clear. A check of 24,000 records revealed four more such cases.

All six women were now undergoing further tests, Dr Jonathan Michael, medical director of the South Birmingham Acute Unit, said yesterday, although it would be next week before it was known whether any had developed cancer. 'A mammogram test which is abnormal and needs follow-up is not a diagnosis of cancer. In fact only about 1 in 10 women who have such a result are ultimately discovered to have cancer of the breast,' he said.

Dr Michael and South Birmingham Health Authority, which purchases the service, apologised to the women as the West Midlands Regional Health Authority launched a review of an estimated 400,000 screening records in its nine other units to ensure no similar error had occurred. Professor Rod Griffiths, director of public health for the West Midlands, said he now believed a new system put in place in South Birmingham was 'watertight'.

Yesterday's disclosure follows the need in South Birmingham last year to review 1,800 bone tumour tests after difficulties with a consultant pathologist led at least 42 people to be misdiagnosed.