'Nonetheless, eight years is a hell of a long time for nobody to notice. Older women – that perennially invisible group – can be forgiven for wondering whether it would have happened to anyone else.'
The women in question would have been in their late 60s when their scans were cancelled and perhaps in their 70s when they started getting sick. They’re of the generation that waits to be served, doesn’t like to bother anyone and trusts the people in charge to know what they’re doing. When the letters stopped coming, they must have just assumed they’d had their quota from the National Health Service and they were of an age when old ladies, as well as old men, get used to dropping off people’s radar. But isn't it to avoid such human blind spots, that algorithms are used by our public services exist in the first place? Aren't machines meant to excel at routine tasks like churning out appointments and not make emotional judgements about what you can expect at your age ?
You might expect that :
Jeremy Hunt would have seen to it that the 450,000 unscreened women, no doubt, some of them very worried indeed that they might be suffering from undiagnosed cancer, would be treated to a Rolls-Royce of a help-line to provide them with information from trained clinicians and allay their fears. A Public Health England spokesperson indicated that would be the case and said : “We are committed to ensuring that affected women and their families receive all the support they need. We are aware that the helpline is busy, particularly at peak times. We have built additional resilience into the system to ensure that as many people are able to receive support as possible.”
* as one handler said : "We found out at noon and were delivered training at 2.30pm. We were then taking taking calls live at 4pm. Normally we get two weeks training and this was one hour and a half It is ridiculous, there’s no way we could take in all that information in that amount of time.”
* in the event, call-handlers with no medical experience had only one hour’s training relied on a cheat sheet of symptoms with one, who contacted the Guardian, saying the sheet was “all over the place and hard to understand. It looked like it had been typed up and sent out as soon as possible.”
* handlers were given a booklet which included a page that listed symptoms of breast cancer, which they were supposed to go through, if need be, with the callers,
* as one handler said : “I felt ashamed knowing what had happened to these women, taking these calls when I am not medically trained, have no counselling background and am in no position to help them. Other people I work with feel the same. A girl who was working yesterday said taking calls was horrendous as people were getting really upset. People also cannot deal with the volume of calls coming through. We are not trained to be dealing with those type of things.”
"It seems the outsourcing firm Serco is running the hotline with staff who have no medical background or training in counselling, responding to women on these calls. There are of course huge questions that remain unanswered about this tragic scandal but the government’s priority must also be to ensure adequate resources are in place to give women the help they need.”
The rushed response to setting up the helpline is even more inexcusable when one realises that the Government had known about the screening error since January.
The late Rita Towsey and Trixie Gough, their story : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxzLLHDaW3