ALMOST 1,800 women are to be contacted by the Scottish NHS after an error meant they were not invited for their final breast cancer screening.

The Scottish Government said 1,761 women aged over 71 would be contacted after a review discovered they had not be given a screening appointment over the past three years.

SNP health secretary Jeanne Freeman apologised for the “distress” caused, and revealed files are now being checked manually after problems with the computerised invitation system.

The delays affected 1 in 500 of the 700,000 women in the relevant population.

Earlier this year it emerged 450,000 women aged 68-71 in England had not been screened since 2009, up to 270 of whom may have died as a result, prompting checks in Scotland.

At the time, the Scottish Government gave a misleading reassurance to women that there were no comparable problems north of the border.

Then Health Secretary Shona Robison said: "Patients should be reassured that there are no problems with our breast screening programme records or IT systems." 

Women in Scotland are invited for routine breast screening between the ages of 50 and 70.

However, the women affected were not invited for their final appointment by the time they had turned 71 as a result of delays within the programme.

The women affected missed out by a few months to three years.

NHS screening centres have now made arrangements to screen the women as quickly as possible, with additional staff handling phone enquiries and providing support.

The additional screening should not delay other women attending their routine appointments.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “I know this will be a worrying time for the women affected and I apologise fully for any distress caused.

“The women are being contacted as a priority and resources have been put in place to ensure they are screened promptly and offered any wider support needed.

“This additional screening will not delay other women attending their routine appointments.

“This issue came to light following a due diligence review of the breast screening system in Scotland which was undertaken after a significant incident with England’s breast screening programme earlier this year. I have been clear that we must learn from this and act to minimise the risk of similar incidents in future.”

Scottish Tory health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: "These tests are absolutely crucial in identifying and treating cancer at early stages.

"It is truly concerning to think that almost 2,000 women have missed this important screening and that they are still potentially undiagnosed.

"As we saw in England earlier this year, the impact of such failings can be extremely serious.

"The Scottish Government must identify and communicate with those who have missed their screening urgently as well as reviewing procedures to ensure this never happens again.

"Women across Scotland will be extremely concerned that they have been overlooked in a similar way and they must be reassured."

The serious failure has come to light after the then-SNP Health Secretary Shona Robison told Parliament in May in regards to a similar problem in England that “the issue does not affect the NHS in Scotland” and “patients should be reassured that there are no problems with our breast screening programme records or information technology systems.”

Labour MSP David Stewart said: "This is a serious and deeply distressing failure in one of the most crucial diagnostic areas of our NHS.

"I was in Parliament in May when the-then SNP Health Secretary Shona Robison said that there was no issue in Scotland’s breast cancer screening programme. We now know that was not the case and that almost 1,800 women have been badly, and potentially fatally, let down.

"If the government can be wrong on an issue as crucial as this, then many members of the public will rightly wonder if there are additional diagnostic screening failures in the NHS.

"SNP Health Secretary Jeane Freeman must now quickly establish why this failure occurred and how many women have been subsequently diagnosed with breast cancer after missing their screening."

Scottish LibDem health spokesperson Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "This is a horrifying lapse of process. It will be an anxious time for the women who are now discovering they have missed out on key screenings.

“The Scottish Government must remedy this at speed and ensure that no other women ever face the potentially devastating consequences of such a blunder again."

The review was carried out by the Scottish Clinical Taskforce after Ms Robison asked for further due diligence checks.

The government said work to address issues with the automatic invitation system was being done immediately and in the meantime all breast screening centres in Scotland were manually checking to pick up any women who may miss invitations due to this system issue.

Those affected will receive a letter shortly from their local breast screening centre inviting them to an appointment.

Additional provision will be provided over the weekend to allow for women to call and book an appointment.