Call for NHS in Wales to fund Down's syndrome blood test

Foetus Image copyright SPL
Image caption The current test for high-risk pregnancies, an amniocentesis, increases the likelihood of miscarriage

The NHS in Wales should fund a safer pregnancy test for Down's syndrome rather than waiting for approval across the UK, a doctor has said.

Dr Bryan Beattie, a consultant in fetal medicine, said women taking the current test are "gambling" their pregnancies.

A new test for the genetic condition that reduces the risk of miscarriage is being trialled in London.

The Welsh government said it would consider evidence from the National Screening Committee (NSC).

One in every 200 women loses their baby after an amniocentesis, in which the fluid around the developing foetus is tested for genetic disorders.

Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) would instead test for fragments of foetal DNA in the mother's blood.

'Losing babies'

Dr Beattie, who works at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff, believes the new procedure should be free on the NHS in Wales.

"While we are waiting for the test to be implemented in the UK, we are mis-diagnosing Down's syndrome and losing babies," he said.

"Most hospitals in Wales offer the combined test - a blood test and a scan - but this still misses one in six babies with Down's syndrome. It's like rolling a dice.

"Pregnant women carrying a normal baby are also playing roulette as one in 40 women have a chance of it coming up high risk and being offered an unnecessary amniocentesis.

"NIPT tests miss less than one in 100 and less than one in 1,000 need an amniocentesis."

Image copyright Bryan Beattie
Image caption Dr Beattie said the Welsh government had an "exciting opportunity" to take the lead and fund the test

Dr Beattie urged the Welsh government, which can decide its own budget for antenatal screening, to press ahead with funding the procedure.

The current screening programme for Down's syndrome was recommended by the NSC.

A Welsh government spokeswoman said the NSC is currently considering new research findings on NIPT from across the world.

"Once the NSC's advice on NIPT is available it will be considered by the Wales screening committee before advice is submitted to the Heath Minister, Mark Drakeford," she added.

A spokeswoman for the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence said if the Welsh government wishes to fund the procedure, it does not have to wait for the NHS in England to provide it.

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