FIRST Windrush. Now a nationwide breast screening scandal after it emerged that an estimated 450,000 women were not invited for a final test after a NHS computer error – and that this systemic failure could have foreshortened the lives of up to 270 individuals.
Though the threatened deportation of Windrush generation families who moved here quite legitimately after the war could not be further removed from the trauma being suffered by all those now caught up in the breast screening crisis, both point to procedural failures that must not be ignored.
And while both issues precede 2010, both do, in fact, highlight a growing culture of institutional indifference – namely Whitehall, and public agencies, being too slow to respond when policy-making, or IT systems in the case of the NHS, goes awry, and a lack of empathy towards those on the receiving end of such failures.
As such, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt should be praised for his sensitive statement to Parliament and the steps being taken to offer the women concerned new screenings at the earliest opportunity. Early diagnosis is critical in the fight against cancer.
His official inquiry – why did the screening scandal take it take so long to come to light? – suggests that the Government has learned from Windrush. It came minutes after Theresa May said that the review being set up into this immigration controversy will have “full access” to all paperwork, including the period when she ran the Home Office.
Total transparency is imperative to restoring confidence in the Government and its work. Lessons need learning and greater humility, and humanity, shown towards the public – some very senior officials appear to have forgotten that they are supposed to serve.
However Mrs May will have to lead by example if this culture is to change. If not, Brexit – and this week’s local elections – will be the least of her difficulties.