23,000 pregnant women not receiving anomaly scans, obstetrics professor tells health committee

Failure to offer all pregnant women a 20-week foetal anomaly scan will result in 230 missed cases of congenital abnormalities every year with potentially devastating consequences for families.

Louise Kenny, professor of obstetrics at University College Cork, said a phone survey of all 19 maternity units last week found 23,000 women were not receiving the scan.

The figure is based on five of the maternity units not offering the scan at all while seven others only offer it selectively.

Statistically, one percent of babies are affected by congenital abnormalities.

While “only a handful” would have severe abnormalities such as spina bifida or an underdeveloped heart, Prof Kenny said parents whose babies had more treatable problems would be denied the opportunity to plan appropriate care and outcomes would be poorer.

“Something like a cleft lip, if its not diagnosed, the parents won’t be prepared for difficulties feeding of they won’t have had discussions with a plastic surgeon,” Prof Kenny.

At Cork University Maternity Hospital where Prof Kenny is a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist, fewer than half of public patients can avail of the scan.

Prof Kenny told the Oireachtas Joint Health Committee that this was “fixable” within a six month period if midwives could be freed up.

She said the hospital has three midwives trained to do the scans who have not been promoted to the level expected on foot of their expertise and so are not being remunerated accordingly.

“So when other midwives see that they ask ‘Why would I bother?’” Prof Kenny said.

Nationally, it was likely to 2019 at the earliest before all women could avail of the scan, Prof Kenny said because the implementation group tasked with driving the new National Maternity Strategy 2016-2026 is unlikely to be in a position to argue for a budget before 2018.

“The earliest we’ll see any movement on this issue is 2019,” Prof Kenny said.

Prof Kenny referenced a case where a woman gave birth by emergency c-section to a baby with a serious abnormality that had not been diagnosed prenatally.

The upshot was the baby had to be transferred to Crumlin “and that baby died 230 miles away from its mother”.

“She never got to see her baby in those moments and she will carry that with her forever,” Prof Kenny said.


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