Thousands more women caught in smear test scandal: NHS now admits 50,000 have missed cervical cancer screening results and invites because of blunder by ‘shambolic’ private firm
- Calls have been reignited for Capita to be stripped of its £330m NHS contract
- An additional 3,591 women have been caught up in the screening scandal
- The NHS denies any women have been harmed by the failure to send letters
- But around half of the newly involved patients were expecting results letters
Thousands more women have been caught up in the latest cervical screening scandal, it emerged last night.
NHS England confirmed an additional 3,591 women had not been sent cervical screening invitations or test results and may require further treatment.
It follows the revelations last month that 48,000 women had been put at risk by the failure of contract firm Capita to send letters to women on behalf of the NHS.
Of the latest patients embroiled in the scandal, about half should have received results letters which would have detailed if further treatment was needed.
Health bosses said there was no evidence that any women had come to any harm as a result of the embarrassing glitch, but the Royal College of General Practitioners said NHS workers have lost confidence in Capita’s ability to do its job properly.
Experts warned it is too early to tell whether women will suffer, and fear it will further damage public confidence in screenings, which are already at a 20 year low.
More than 50,000 women in England did not receive letters inviting them or reminding them to attend cervical screening tests, or letters expected to reveal the results of tests they had already had, which can pick up on early warnings of cancer (stock image)
Those affected and their GPs are now being written to and asked to attend further tests if necessary.
The patients should have received at least one notification because women with abnormal results should be sent letters from two or three sources.
About 4.5million invitations for cervical screening are sent out every year.
Women aged 25 to 49 are invited for screening every three years, while those aged 50 to 64 are asked to attend every five years.
If the regular tests spot precancerous cells, these can be treated before they develop into tumours that can spread throughout the body by early treatment.
Doctors fear the blunder could reduce uptake, which at 71.4 per cent is already at the lowest levels for two decades.
The screening scandal first came to light last month, when the Government’s public health minister Steve Brine slammed it as ‘unacceptable’.
As a result Professor Sir Mike Richards, former cancer director for the Department of Health, has been asked to carry out a review into the NHS’s screening programmes.
Around 180 of the original 48,000 women affected had abnormal results, putting them at higher risk of cervical cancer, and a further 252 women needed an early repeat screening test.
WHO ARE CAPITA AND HAVE THEY MADE ERRORS BEFORE?
Capita won a seven-year contract worth £330million in 2015 to run back-office services for the NHS in England, such as sending out invitation letters to people eligible for screening programmes.
The firm, based in London, employees 70,000 people and specialises on administrative services for the private and public sector.
Capita, whose chairman is Sir Ian Powell, had nearly £1billion wiped off its value in January as shares plummeted to a 15-year low.
The fall came after bosses blamed weak sales and said the company had spread itself too thinly.
Reports suggest the giant, listed on the London Stock Exchange, receives nearly half of its income from Government contracts.
Capita was considered responsible for 12 out of 18 serious NHS data blunders between July 2016 and July 2017.
Sacks of medical records were delivered to the wrong surgeries, emails sent to private firms and confidential details published on websites.
At the time the British Medical Association’s Dr Richard Vautrey said: ‘This is yet another serious failure of a service… run by Capita.’
Capita is also responsible for collecting the BBC licence fee from households and running the London Congestion Charge.
Last month, the Ministry of Defence acknowledged Capita, which has had the contract for Army recruiting since 2012, had ‘underperformed’.
The disclosure drew an angry response from MPs on the committee who warned the service was ‘withering on the vine’ and called for the contractor to be sacked.
The news comes just months after it emerged 450,000 women had not been invited for breast cancer screening after mistakes went undetected for almost a decade.
A spokesman for Capita apologised for the latest mistake, which came to light after it carried out a review following the scandal.
The company blamed human error for the system of ‘uploading, organising and checking’ not being followed and said disciplinary action was being taken.
But it has reignited calls for the company to be stripped of its contracts.
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said the latest revelation shows ‘this was not an isolated failure’.
He said: ‘Just weeks ago, it was revealed that almost 48,000 women had not received important correspondence relating to cervical screening this year due to Capita’s incompetence, and this latest revelation shows this was not an isolated failure.
‘This is just the latest in a long line of failures since Capita took over a number of GP services in 2015.
‘And yet, NHS England have not demonstrated to the profession that they are serious at addressing what ultimately they are responsible for.
‘We therefore repeat our demand that NHS England strip the company of its contract and return this service to an in-house delivered activity that can regain the confidence of practices and patients.’
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘This is simply not good enough.
‘Less than a month since we initially heard about this cervical screening error, we are now hearing it is more serious, and has affected thousands more women.
‘Cervical screening is a successful national programme that has potentially saved thousands of lives, yet take up especially among younger women, is falling.
‘We should be doing our utmost to encourage more to have smear tests but errors, such as this, will only serve to further damage women’s confidence in the programme.
‘Capita has been shown time and time again to be unable to deliver on the work it has been contracted to do in the NHS.
‘This is completely unacceptable – people working throughout the NHS have lost all confidence in Capita, and it really is time for NHS England to reconsider its contract with them.’
An NHS England official said: ‘There is no current evidence of any harm having resulted from these issues and all women affected, and their GPs, are being written to today advising them on what they need to do.
‘These administrative failures were uncovered by a clinically led panel, convened by NHS England following a serious incident confirmed by Capita earlier this year.’