Cancer helpline backlash over 'lack of staff training'

By Greg Heffer, Political Reporter
Almost 14,000 calls have now been received by a helpline established after the breast cancer screening scandal emerged, as the Government defends how staff dealing with concerned women had just one hour's training.
In an update to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt told MPs that 65,000 letters were sent out to those affected last week, with further letters being sent this week and the first invitations for catch-up screenings to be sent next week.In one of the biggest NHS failures of recent years, a total of 450,000 women aged 68 to 71 are estimated to have not been invited to their final routine check.An independent review has been launched into the computer error, which was discovered in January but dates back to 2009.Mr Hunt had previously revealed that between 135 and 270 women could have had their lives shortened as a result of the mistake.Providing an update almost a week after the scandal was first revealed, Mr Hunt said: "Due to the lack of clinical consensus about the effectiveness of screening for older women, we will provide advice and support for all who missed scans and support them in making their own decision as to whether to proceed."We'll be also be publishing terms of reference for the independent inquiry shortly."I can ensure the House no stone will be left unturned in uncovering the truth."
Cancer helpline backlash over 'lack of staff training'

NHS 'failure' has shortened lives - Hunt
Mr Hunt was also forced to defend the amount of training given to helpline staff before they dealt with patients' cases, after coming under attack from Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth.
Tackling Mr Hunt during health questions in the House of Commons, Mr Ashworth said: "Now we learn the hotline for women affected by the breast cancer screening failures is provided by Serco and staffed by call handlers who, far from having medical or counselling training, had one hour's training."Don't the women affected deserve better than that?"Will he provide the resources for that phone line to be brought back in house and staffed by medical professionals?"In response, the Health Secretary criticised his Labour counterpart's "posturing".Mr Hunt added: "That helpline was set up at very short notice because obviously the call handlers couldn't do all their training until I had made a statement to Parliament, which I judged was the most important thing to do first."It is not the only help that those affected women will be getting.
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"They will then, on the basis of advice received, be referred either back for help at their local hospital or with Macmillan Cancer Support or through specialist clinicians at Public Health England."But, we thought it was right that that number was made available as quickly as possible."
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