Welsh hospitals are to introduce a safer and more accurate test for Down’s syndrome for pregnant women, the Welsh government announced today.
It said hospitals in Wales would introduce the non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) during 2018, with the hope of reducing miscarriages associated with invasive tests.
“A negative NIPT result will offer pregnant women the reassurance they need”
NIPT involves a blood sample analysed in a laboratory, as an additional option for women assessed though screening as having a higher risk of Down’s, Edwards’ and Patau’s syndrome.
“A negative NIPT result will offer pregnant women the reassurance they need, without the need for a further invasive diagnostic test – reducing the unnecessary harm from miscarriage that can be caused through the use of these tests,” said Public health minister Rebecca Evans.
The government said it expected to save one to two babies a year in Wales from miscarriages thanks to the introduction of the test.
However, it noted that if the NIPT result was positive women will still need to have an invasive procedure to obtain a confirmed diagnosis.
Currently women are offered a screening test to show the chances of having a baby with Down’s syndrome.
If this is equal to or higher than one in 150, women are considered higher chance and are offered the option of an invasive test to confirm a diagnosis of Down’s syndrome.
Earlier this year, Nursing Times reported that compulsory high quality training was needed for staff involved with prenatal screening. A report from Nuffield Council on Bioethics suggested the introduction of the test could mean over 3,000 fewer invasive tests.
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A spokesman for the Welsh government said: “A working group is in place to develop education, training and information requirements for midwives and pregnant women.”
He added: “There will be electronic and direct training available pre-implementation for the health professionals offering NIPT.”
Julian Hallett, services development manager for Down’s Syndrome Association in Wales, said: “It is essential that health professionals, such as midwives and screening coordinators, are properly trained about the genetic condition before the new screening is rolled out.”
The charity said counselling was needed for people to make informed decisions about Down’s syndrome, noting that many parents of children with the condition thought information they get about it from health professionals was too negative.
“We want to ensure that by giving positive information about the condition and explain the increased opportunities for children and adults with Down’s syndrome today,” Ms Hallett added.
The charity has been working with Public Health England, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynacologists and Down’s Syndrome Scotland to develop training for professionals involved in the prenatal screening process.
They have also delivered Tell It Right, Start It Right training – accredited by the Royal College of Midwives – to over 4000 qualified and student midwives in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.