THIS WEEK

The head of the national breastscreening programme has expressed concern about the impact of the suspension of one of the UK's largest services on the national scheme.

West of London breast- screening service was closed in June and looks set to remain suspended until mid-October, according to John Cooper, chief executive of Hammersmith Hospitals trust, which runs the service.

It was shut down after the screening unit proved incapable of adhering to the national reporting protocol, which the trust had attempted to meet after an independent audit of patients' files found clerical recall errors earlier this year. The national reporting protocol, originally introduced to prevent precisely these errors, had not been in use.

Mr Cooper said he believed problems meeting the protocol were rooted in management, but said he did not yet know the specific nature of the problem.

'I do not know why the protocol is not being implemented. I do not know the answer. If I did, I would be further ahead. I have concerns about the management of the West of London screening service. I am not confident that the arrangements are robust and satisfactory in the long run. I do not think we are on top of all issues.'

Mr Cooper also said staff training on the protocol that should have taken place had not yet happened, and that it was due to take place in September and October.

NHS breast-screening programme national co-ordinator Julietta Patnick told HSJ: 'I am worried now. There is no leeway in the screening programme, and the longer it goes on, the more of a problem it is. This is one of the largest screening units in the country.'

She also took issue with Mr Cooper's claim that the trust was doing well in meeting screening targets. Ms Patnick said the latest data indicated the situation was 'not as good as he suggested'.

She added that if the service was likely to be shut down for a long period, 'we would have to call the regional office and look at all options'.

But she said responsibility lay with the trust: 'The breastscreening programme is locally organised, so it is a matter for the trust to organise as it sees fit. This is their difficulty and they must handle it.'

Hammersmith and Fulham community health council cochief officer Angela Flaherty said the CHC had not been aware the service had closed down because of the inability to follow the national protocol.

She said: 'We have been assured by the trust they are addressing these issues. It is worrying they haven't been able to meet the protocol. I think they should be completely honest. We shall really want reassurance.'