RLI radiologist failed to pick up cancers

File photo dated 15/06/06 of a consultant analyzing a mammogram. Almost two million women a year in England are now screened for breast cancer, figures show. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday March 22, 2012. Some 1.88 million women aged 45 and over were screened in 2010/11, compared with 1.79 million the year before and 1.3 million in 2000/2001. See PA story HEALTH Breast. Photo credit should read: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
File photo dated 15/06/06 of a consultant analyzing a mammogram. Almost two million women a year in England are now screened for breast cancer, figures show. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Thursday March 22, 2012. Some 1.88 million women aged 45 and over were screened in 2010/11, compared with 1.79 million the year before and 1.3 million in 2000/2001. See PA story HEALTH Breast. Photo credit should read: Rui Vieira/PA Wire
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Two women died after previously being told they did not have breast cancer at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary’s breast screening unit.

The unit now has a clean bill of health, butconfidential data, released last week, showed 10 cases of cancer were not picked up by one radiologist at the RLI prior to 2011.

University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Trust (UHMBT), which runs the hospital, said it was not possible to say whether a delay in diagnosis had contributed to the deaths.

Concern has also been raised by County Coun Azhar Ali, cabinet member with responsibility for health and wellbeing, who has written to health secretary Jeremy Hunt asking for an independent review.

A Public Health England (PHE), report, published last November, highlighted serious concerns about management arrangements and working relations within the department.

The investigation warned that if the culture within the unit was not immediately addressed there would be a serious impact on the future safety of the service.

This week, PHE published an annexe to the report, which concluded that one radiologist’s performance prior to 2011 was “sub-optimal” and in some cases substandard.

In response to the publication, Dr David Walker, medical director, UHMBT, said: “The original report into the service concluded that the service was safe and operating to national standards.

“A number of managerial changes were recommended by Public Health England and we have now implemented the majority of these.

“As soon as concerns were raised, the former medical director asked Public Health England to investigate further.

“We can reassure women using the service that it is safe, and national experts have concluded that the service is operating to national standards.

“We will continue to monitor progress closely to ensure it remains a safe service for women across South Cumbria and North Lancashire.”

He added: “Women are not given the all clear in the breast screening programme. They are advised that they are either high risk and offered further investigation, or they are advised that they are low risk and should return to regular screening.

“All women returned to regular screening are advised that screening does not exclude the possibility of breast cancer and that they should return to their GP if they get any suspicious symptoms.

“Two women who had negative screens following substandard assessments between 2003 and 2008 have died but it is not possible to say whether the delay in diagnosis was a contributory factor.”

In his letter to Mr Hunt, Coun Ali said he had “deep concerns” about the manner in which a whistleblowing incident within the breast cancer screening unit at UHMBT was being addressed.

He said: “In spite of various recommendations by Public Health England to improve the quality of the screening programme, the actions to address the recommendations in a comprehensive manner appear to be far from satisfactory.

“Crucially, thewhistleblowers seem to have been completely excluded from the improvement actions.

“It is becoming very apparent that there are some deep seated cultural andmanagement issues within the breast cancer screening unit including a dismissiveenvironment that could hamper patient safety.”