More than 40,000 women in England have failed to receive their cervical cancer screening letters from the NHS.
A private company hired to perform various back-office tasks for the NHS in England has been slammed after it emerged thousands women had not been sent the appropriate smear test information.
The British Medical Association [BMA] has contacted NHS England to express “serious” concern that thousands of women didn’t receive a reminder notice while others didn’t get their results.
The BMA claimed up to 48,500 women have not received information regarding cervical cancer screening after a system error at Capita.
The company has been contracted to provide various support services across England including a role in the NHS cervical cancer screening programme.
Part of Capita’s contract with the NHS is to produce and send invitation, reminder and results letters to women eligible for the screening programme.
But from January to June this year, approximately 43,200 women due to receive invitation and reminder letters were sent an invitation letter or a reminder, but not both.
A further 4,500 did not receive their smear test results.
A spokesman for Capita said the company “apologises” for the error.
He said the correct process for “uploading, organising and checking” has not been followed properly.
Disciplinary action is being taken by the company and the senior manager responsible for the NHS contract has left Capita.
The NHS said there is no evidence anyone had been harmed as a result of the error and the priority is to contact all the women affected.
Dr Richard Vautrey, of the British Medical Association said: “It is frankly appalling that patients may now be at risk because of this gross error on the part of Capita.
“We know that, because of the nature of this procedure, many patients are already reluctant to attend these appointments, and therefore reminder letters are crucial.
“Incidents like this, therefore, will hardly inspire confidence in the system and risk even fewer women getting checked.”
He also called for Capita to be stripped of the contract as their handling of the service had been “frankly appalling” and “nothing short of shambolic”.
Capita said in a statement: “We have investigated the precise circumstances around this incident, and it is clear that the correct process for uploading, organising and checking datafiles was not properly followed.
“When the problem was discovered, it was not immediately escalated to senior leadership, or NHS England, by the individuals responsible.
“Capita is investigating the managerial handling of the matter and taking appropriate disciplinary action. Additionally, a senior executive responsible for this contract has already left Capita.
“We have appointed an independent audit team, led by PwC, to carry out a detailed review into operational systems and processes in PCSE.
“We have upgraded checks in place at every stage of the process and offered NHS England additional resource as this issue was resolved.
“The risk to women of this incident is low and there is no current evidence of harm, but Capita nevertheless apologises to both the NHS and to the women whose correspondence was delayed.”