The government’s breast cancer screening hotline is staffed by people who are not medically trained and rely on a “cheat sheet” of symptoms, it is claimed.
Call handlers say they fear mistakes could be made in the handling of distressed women’s cases because of the rush to set up the service three days ago.
They have revealed they were given just one hour of training and handed a 23-page information pack listing symptoms of breast cancer and frequently asked questions.
“I felt ashamed knowing what had happened to these women, taking these calls when I am not medically trained, have no counselling background and am in no position to help them,” one worker told the Guardian.
“Taking calls was horrendous as people were getting really upset ... People also cannot deal with the volume of calls coming through. We are not trained to be dealing with those type of things.”
Another said the training pack was “all over the place and hard to understand”.
They added: “I don’t think the people whose family members have died would like to know the people they’ve been directed to to help them aren’t medical professionals but have to give medical advice and it’s all from one information sheet.”
Serco, the multinational outsourcing company running the hotline, said its staff were all trained to provide “contact services on behalf of public service customers”.
“They are using information and advice provided by Public Health England and are required to collect details of women who believe they have missed screening, so they can be contacted by health professionals, and to set out the options available to them,” Serco said in a statement.
“On Friday, as an example, we were able to answer 99.5 per cent of all calls received at our centres.”
The hotline was set up after the government admitted 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 missed out on NHS cancer screening because of an IT error dating back to 2009.
More than 10,000 calls have already been made to the hotline by women fearing they are among those affected.
Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the women “deserved better than this”.
“Ministers promised distressed women affected by the breast cancer screening failure a dedicated hotline,” he said. “Instead they have a Serco line with staff who apparently have no medical or counselling training.”
Women in England between the ages of 50 and 70 are automatically invited for breast cancer screening every three years.
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies