Pregnant women in Wales are to become the first in the UK to receive safer and more accurate screening for Down’s syndrome.
From Monday, pregnant women in Wales will have access to non-invasive tests for Down’s, Edward’s and Patau’s syndromes.
“I’m pleased Wales is leading the way by offering NIPT as part of our programme”
The move makes Wales the first UK nation to introduce non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) across the whole country as an addition to existing antenatal screening on offer to women.
The test will be offered to women who have taken up the initial offer of screening and are found to be at a higher chance of Down’s, Edward’s or Patau’s syndrome.
The NIPT test, a blood sample analysed in a laboratory, will be offered as an alternative to an invasive test as this part of the pathway.
“We have worked closely with parents, charities and health professionals to improve the pathway”
As an invasive test has a small risk of miscarriage, offering NIPT is expected to reduce this risk as fewer invasive tests are expected to be undertaken in Wales.
The Welsh government noted that a high chance NIPT result was not diagnostic and an invasive test – either a smear or amniocentesis – would subsequently be offered to enable a definitive diagnosis.
The decision to implement NIPT in Wales follows expert advice from the UK National Screening Committee. Its introduction will be evaluated over the next three years.
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In addition, combined screening for Edward’s and Patau’s in the first trimester for women having one baby, and combined screening for Down’s, Edward’s and Patau’s in the first trimester for twin pregnancies, are also being introduced in Wales.
Welsh health secretary Vaughan Gething said: “Our antenatal screening programme plays an important role in providing expectant mothers with the information and support they need throughout their pregnancy.
“I’m pleased Wales is leading the way by offering NIPT as part of our programme,” he said. “This more accurate test will reduce the need of further invasive tests in most cases, therefore reducing the incidence of miscarriages related to invasive procedures.”
“Midwives in Wales have undergone additional training so they can share clear information on this non-invasive test”
Sharon Hillier, director of screening for Public Health Wales, highlighted that it was “important that women are supported with information about the conditions and the screening offered”.
“We have worked closely with parents, charities and health professionals to improve the pathway and the information that we provide to pregnant women in Wales,” she said.
Ms Hillier added: “We’ve taken the opportunity to update the pre-test written information as well as producing it as a short film.”
She also noted that health professionals involved in discussing screening with women had been given extra training focused on “personalised choice and up to date information on the conditions”.
The Royal College of Midwives said it welcomed the introduction of NIPT across Wales for pregnant women from next week.
‘Real time’ monitoring of HCAIs in Welsh hospitals
RCM director for Wales Helen Rogers said: “I am also pleased that Wales is leading the way being the first UK country to make this test available to all women irrespective of where they live in Wales.
“Screening is always an individual choice for women and their partners and midwives in Wales have undergone additional training so they can share clear information on this non-invasive test with women which will support them in their decision making and to make the right choice for them,” she added.