Read the latest HealthWatch newsletter:  Newsletter 116, Summer 2021

A letter to The Times signed by 15 HealthWatch experts and supporters sparked a deluge of media coverage when it urged women offered catch-up after missed breast screening invitations to “look this gift horse in the mouth”.

IMG 20180517 181112HealthWatch chair, Susan Bewley, professor of women’s health at King’s College London, penned the letter on learning the news that an estimated 450,000 women aged 68-70 had not been invited to routine NHS mammography screenings because of an IT failure dating back to 2009. Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, had claimed that between 135 and 270 women might have had their lives shortened as a result.

These figures, based on statistical modelling, were disputed by many in the medical and statistical community, and Bewley’s letter quickly gathered signatories from among HealthWatch supporters including Michael Baum, who as professor emeritus of surgery at University College London was an architect of the original breast screening programme in the 1980s.

"Breast cancer screening mostly causes more unintended harm than good"

The letter, headed “Screening ‘flaw’”, appeared on Saturday 5th May and was accompanied by a page 9 article by Chris Smyth, The Times’ Health Editor, titled “Women are urged to avoid catch-up breast screening”. It quoted from Bewley’s letter, “The breast screening programme mostly causes more unintended harm than good, which is slowly being recognised internationally. Many women and doctors now avoid breast screening because it has no impact on all-cause death”.

Here is a list of just some of the media coverage that resulted:

Other publications home and abroad took apart the Department of Health’s wobbly maths.

HealthWatch has been raising concerns about breast cancer screening and its shaky evidence base since 2001, and continues to work to raise awareness of the risks and promote correct information to doctors and the public to enable informed choice.


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