Scottish ministers warned on breast screening glitch two years ago

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Scottish ministers were warned two years ago that breast screening IT systems should be monitored to prevent women missing their appointments, it has emerged.

Yesterday the Scottish Conservatives highlighted a 2016 report by Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) saying that computer systems needed “ongoing monitoring” to ensure no mistakes were made.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon walks to First Minister's Questions

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon walks to First Minister's Questions

The warning came almost two years before last week’s admission by ministers that IT problems had caused almost 1,800 women to miss the crucial screening appointments over the past three years.

Last week it emerged that a glitch in the NHS’s ITsystem that sends letters to patients inviting them to be screened meant that the women were accidentally ignored.

The issue, resulted in 1,761 women aged over 70 failing to be offered their final appointments.

The 2016 report was ordered after it was disclosed doctors had failed to issue screening invitations to 3,831 women and made a series of recommendations, including clearer leadership on the issue.

It also said a new IT system had been launched which should stop the problem happening again – but warned that it should be closely observed in case any similar issues emerged.

“The IT system has taken several years to develop and fully implement,” the HIS report stated. 

“It will require ongoing monitoring to ensure any initial software problems are appropriately resolved and any future risks identified are appropriately dealt with.”

The report was brought up at Holrood by Tory MSP Jamie Greene who questioned if the IT system responsible for breast cancer screening was “fit for purpose”.

Mr Greene said the fresh issues discovered last week may have been “predictable”, asking Nicola Sturgeon why the recommendation on IT had apparently been “ignored”

Mr Greene said: “In 2016 a review by Healthcare Improvement Scotland found nearly 4,000 women had not been sent screening invitations. So can I ask why was the 2016 recommendation ignored? And what reassurances can she give today that the screening programme IT system is fit for purpose?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “In relation to the 2016 issue, my understanding is that this is a separate issue and therefore I’m not sure it is accurate to say that this was – to use the word that was used – predictable.”

Later a Scottish Government spokesman said: “The recent incident was due to a separate issue concerning the age cohort for breast screening.

“We are working to develop an IT solution to the underlying issue and in the meantime manual checks are in place within local breast screening centres to ensure no more women are missed for this reason.

The spokesman added: “These checks will continue until the Health Secretary is assured that the current issue is resolved.”