Woman dies after being 'incorrectly excluded' from cervical cancer screening

Credit: PA

A woman has died after being "incorrectly excluded" from the cervical cancer screening programme, a Scottish government minister has revealed.

Women’s health minister Maree Todd told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament an audit by an NHS board in December 2020 had "discovered a very small number of women had developed cervical cancer after being wrongly excluded from the screening programme following a hysterectomy".

She added: “I am extremely sorry to say that one of those women has died.”

Women should still have been screened if part of their cervix was not fully removed.

The Scottish government confirmed a national review is taking place of everyone who has been excluded from the screening programme.

As a result around 430 women who were wrongly excluded from the Scottish cervical screening programme over the last 24 years are being offered fast-tracked appointments with GP practices or gynaecology services, following an urgent review of cases.

Maree Todd, the Member of the Scottish Parliament for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross. Credit: Jane Barlow/PA

While acknowledging that "nothing I can say can undo that", Ms Todd told MSPs lessons will be learned "so it cannot happen again".

Although most patients undergoing a hysterectomy have their uterus and cervix removed completely, some women have a "sub-total hysterectomy" where part of the cervix can be left behind – and these women still require to be screened for cervical cancer.

A review "confirmed there are instances where exclusion has been wrongly applied across Scotland", Ms Todd said.

She added it is an "extremely complex issue, spanning a number of decades and involving a variety of potential errors".

There are 220 women in the 25 to 65 age range for cervical screening who were excluded in error, and Ms Todd said they would be written to, "to apologise, to explain the situation and to offer personalised advice".

GP have been told to prioritise these patients for a "timely screening appointment" in the next few weeks, the minister added.

Scottish Conservative MSP Sandesh Gulhane, who is a doctor, said: "My thoughts and prayers go out to the women and their families that have been affected by this terrible error.

"This is simply awful. It might shake women’s faith in the cervical screening programme and as a GP I must be clear that attending your cervical screening is vital."

He asked the minister if the failure was systemic or due to issues with surgeons’ recordings.

Ms Todd said four potential points of error had been identified, including a mismatch between operations proposed and operations carried out.

Samantha Dixon, chief executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, said: "For those affected this may be an incredibly difficult time and we are here for anyone who needs support through our helpline.

"NHS Scotland is acting quickly to contact everyone who may have been wrongly excluded from cervical screening, however swift action must be taken to identify what went wrong and ensure it cannot happen again.

"Cervical screening remains an important test and it’s important that women and people with a cervix, including those who have had a sub-total hysterectomy, continue to have access to it."