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14 July 2014

UK: Wales lags behind on antenatal screening

A new screening test for Down's syndrome is still not available across the Welsh NHS, six years after guidelines said it should be, BBC News Online reports.

In 2008 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) said all pregnant women should be offered the ultrasound scan and blood test.

But currently only patients in north Wales are offered screening. The Welsh government said introducing the test across Wales had been “challenging”, BBC News Online reports.

The guidelines recommended that all pregnant women are offered a combined ultrasound and blood test which identifies the risk of having a baby with a genetic condition caused by abnormal chromosomes, including Down’s syndrome.

Dr Bryan Beattie, a consultant in fetal medicine at the University Hospital of Wales, Cardiff, said he expected the combined test to be rolled out across Wales from September to November.

He said: “It has been incredibly slow. A lot of mothers who have given birth to a baby with Down’s syndrome over the last six years would not have had an opportunity for a combined test. The other even sadder thing is that some mothers unnecessarily miscarried a healthy baby [after an amniocentesis]. They would not have been wrongly flagged up as a high risk if they had had the combined test.”

Jane Fisher, director of Antenatal Results and Choices (Arc) said: “We’re alarmed that it’s taking so long to roll out in Wales.”

North Wales Conservative AM Antoinette Sandbach said: “While I am pleased for my constituents, that finally the ultrasound test has been introduced in north Wales, patients in the rest of Wales still face the same dilemma, either to go private or face an out-dated and far more invasive test on the NHS.”

In a written answer to Ms Sandbach, Health Minister Mark Drakeford said the screening was being introduced in a “phased manner”. “Implementing this screening test is complex and has proved challenging for health boards,” he said.

Mr Drakeford said the additional work required more from midwives, obstetrics and radiology departments, together with upgraded radiology information management system software.

Criticism over NHS Down’s syndrome test availability. BBC News Online, 14 July 2014