Sunday 6 May 2018

This NHS breast cancer scandal should end Jeremy Hunt's career

I'm not surprised that women were the victims of a life-altering NHS scandal – this should end Jeremy Hunt's career. Older women are the most invisible members of our society, constantly relegated to the sidelines and barely discussed apart from in terms of ‘menopausal mother-in-laws’. Meanwhile, research shows that women’s physical symptoms are often recorded by doctors as psychological, writes Annie Corcoran in Independent. Read on: 

Jeremy Hunt has admitted that up to 450,000 women were not invited to attend their final screening for breast cancer. As a result of this monumental error, it’s been estimated that up to 270 women have either died or had their lives shortened.

Hunt has said sorry for this mistake but I doubt his apology will bring much comfort to those who have been affected by such incompetence. His apology won’t bring loved ones back from the dead, or turn a stage four diagnosis of incurable metastasised cancer into a straightforward stage one in need of a simple operation.

Hunt has even said that it is possible that women who have ended up with a terminal diagnosis might receive a letter letting them know that their screening appointment was missed. I can’t begin to imagine how someone would feel receiving a letter like that. An administrative error is the reason you are now dying and all you get in response is an automated letter about your missed appointment and a brief, impersonal apology from an incompetent man who remains in his job. An apology is clearly nowhere near enough to rectify this situation.

Why was such a catastrophic error allowed to happen in the first place? Why was it left undetected for so long? Hunt has said that a computer algorithm failure was the cause. He was also quick to point out that this has been the case since 2009, so technically before his time. However, Hunt has been health secretary since 2012. So for six years this problem went unnoticed on his watch – and he can’t seem to provide any explanation as to why that was. We know that the error was discovered in January and it is now May. So why are we only hearing about it now?

In some ways it is unsurprising that something like this has happened. Since the Tories have been in power they have routinely underfunded and understaffed the NHS. The British Medical Association said recently that the winter NHS crisis was going to become a year-long crisis. With staffing issues and the NHS at breaking point, it is no wonder that those on the frontline were unable to pick up on this error. Neither should they have had to. Hunt needs to take responsibility.

It is important to consider that this mistake mainly affected women and may have fed into the delay in discovering this life-changing problem. Unfortunately, healthcare still has an unconscious bias against women and a lack of understanding about their full range of needs. Women’s health is often not taken as seriously as men’s, and our concerns dismissed. Research shows that when women and men present at A&E with exactly the same descriptions of pain, men are treated sooner and given stronger painkillers. Women with chronic pain are more likely to be told that it is “all in their heads” and “probably psychological”, and more likely to be sent away by their doctors. And even though it was recently found that period pain can be as painful as a heart attack, doctors themselves admit that there has been little research into mitigating it because of sexist stereotypes. Meanwhile, the cult of “natural childbirth” goes strong, but we’d never dream of telling men to grit their teeth and “naturally pass kidney stones” without medical intervention.

The fact that those affected were older women around the age of 70 also plays a part. Older women are the most invisible members of our society, constantly relegated to the sidelines and barely discussed, apart from in terms of “menopausal mother-in-laws”. In this context I’m not surprised older women were the ones who suffered as part of one of the biggest medical scandals for decades.

So why is Jeremy Hunt still allowed to continue in his role as health secretary? This is not the first scandal he has faced, and I am sure that it will not be the last.

Under Hunt at least four million people have been on waiting lists for treatment. UK hospitals have not met the four-hour A&E waiting target since 2015, and Hunt has failed to recruit the staff he has promised. His record is not good. Put simply, he is one of the biggest threats to the NHS – and allowing him to remain would be a grave mistake.

His apology today in Prime Minister’s Questions was not enough. What provision is now being made for the thousands of women who have suffered physical and emotional pain as a result of this computer failure? What about the loved ones left behind? And what about the women who lost their lives? Where is the justice for them?

When are we going to stop letting Hunt play fast and loose with our lives – and when will he do the decent thing and step down, before his policies (or lack thereof) can do any more damage?

No comments:

Post a Comment