Two further deaths linked to cervical screening error as 200,000 patients' records to be reviewed

Two further deaths have been linked to an error in Scotland’s cervical screening programme that saw people wrongly excluded after partial hysterectomies.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 5:33 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 6:56 pm

The Scottish Government is also set to review the records of 200,000 people to check they were correctly excluded from the screening programme.

It comes after women’s health minister Maree Todd revealed in June that a problem with the cervical cancer screening exclusion process was discovered in December last year.

More than 400 women were incorrectly excluded from cervical screening following a partial hysterectomy since 1997, one of whom had since died of cervical cancer, she announced.

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Minister for women's health Maree Todd.

In an update to MSPs on the issue on Wednesday, Ms Todd said two further deaths had now been linked to the error.

"While it not possible to be certain, there is a high level of clinical suspicion that in one case, a woman may have developed cervical cancer as a result of an inappropriate exclusion from screening,” she said.

"Separately, there is another very complex case where several factors appear to have contributed to a diagnosis of cervical cancer, including an incorrect exclusion from cervical screening. In both these cases, the women have sadly died.”

Ms Todd also confirmed “more limited reviews” had revealed issues with women being wrongly removed from the list for smear tests in 2006, 2015, 2016 and 2017.

As a result Healthcare Improvement Scotland has been asked to look at the processes, systems and governance for when women are permanently removed from the list for cervical screening.

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One woman dead and 430 affected by error in cervical screening programme

An adverse event management team of expert clinicians has also recommended all patients permanently excluded from the cervical screening programme over several decades – some 200,000 people – should have their records reviewed.

This is likely to take a year, Ms Todd said, with more people who have been wrongly excluded likely to be identified.

“I once again offer my sincere apologies to all those affected by these errors,” she said.

"In particular, I extend heartfelt apologies to the women who were excluded from the programme who went on to develop cancer and to their families. I also recognise the anxiety this will have caused to all those wrongly excluded from screening.”

Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie welcomed the extended review.

“Nonetheless, this SNP Government still has serious questions to answer over why this scandal went uncovered despite concerns being flagged repeatedly over a number of years,” she said.

Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells said: “SNP ministers left many women in the dark for too long before initially announcing the errors that had been made and my thoughts are with them. The announcement of a review is a step in the right direction.”

Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: “Every effort must be made to ensure that no woman will slip through the gaps during the investigations. This includes those who may have left Scotland since their surgery and those who have not yet responded to letters.

"While it is important to understand if opportunities to prevent this incident were missed, we must not lose sight of those affected, notably those who have lost loved ones or who are feeling anxious as a result of these announcements. Please know that Jo’s is here for you. You can call our Helpline on 0808 802 8000.”

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