As many as 270 women in England may have died prematurely of breast cancer because of an IT failure that led to 4,50,000 patients missing out on routine screening appointments.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt apologised in parliament for the "serious failure," which he said was the result of a mistake in a computer system's algorithm dating back to 2009 but identified only in January this year. He ordered an independent review.
Britain's state-funded National Health Service (NHS), which provides free healthcare to the entire population, is one of the country's most popular institutions. However, it is occasionally hit by failures and scandals which reverberate widely across society as almost everyone receives NHS care throughout their lives.
Under the routine NHS breast screening programme, women aged between 50 and 70 are invited for tests every three years. Around 2 million women are tested every year.
The IT error affected some 4,50,000 women aged between 68 and 71, who should have received their final invitation to a test under the routine programme but did not. Of those, around 1,50,000 have since died.
More than 300,000 of the remaining women, now aged 70 to 79, will be offered catch-up tests by the end of May, with all tests expected to be completed by the end of October.