Quality failings in smear screen testing for women are becoming a disturbing feature of the NHS’s cervical screening programme, according to the findings of a recent report by the National Audit Office.
Sir John Bourn, the head of the National Audit Office, an independent watchdog, said the failings had led to the deaths of women who had wrongly been told their smear was normal. And he added that many others had suffered avoidable harm as a result of inadequate service levels.
According to Bourn, the national programme, which costs £130 million a year, showed particular shortfalls in failing to adequately screen women from ethnic minorities, unskilled manual workers and those in poor economic circumstances.
He also believed women had to wait too long to receive their smear results.
Among the recommendations in the report, Bourn hoped to see more steps taken to minimise errors and to improve quality assurance so that any remaining mistakes could be detected much more rapidly.
Bourn also welcomed the steps taken by the NHS Executive to respond to the results of an enquiry that detected serious failings at Kent and Canterbury Hospitals NHS Trust.