Call to speed up plans for fetal abnormality scans

Plans to routinely offer all pregnant women a scan to detect fetal abnormalities should not take years to implement, a leading obstetrician has said.

Dr Keelin O’Donoghue of Cork University Maternity Hospital said universal access to anomaly scans could be provided in Cork quite quickly with “a small amount of resource”.

Dr O’Donoghue said in CUMH about 70% of women have access to both a dating and an anomaly scan.

October 2019 is the target date for providing full access to foetal anomaly scans, but the HSE says it will depend on funding being made available to recruit and train 52 new ultra-sonographers.

“I recognise that it is on the agenda, but I profoundly hope that universal access does not need to take five years to implement,” said Dr O’Donohue.

In the meantime, as many as 20,000 expectant mothers every year may go through their pregnancy without an anomaly scan.

Fetal anomaly scans are carried out at week 20-22 of a pregnancy to check on the development of a fetus and identify problems that would not show up in the early dating scan so parents and doctors can prepare properly for the birth.

Dr O’Donoghue, who spoke at the Children’s Palliative Care conference in Dublin yesterday, said it seemed to be a question of priorities.

“Doctors like myself have been fighting to get resources for maternity services for 20 years. It is very difficult,” she said.

A study carried out by University College Cork found there is universal access to anomaly scans in only seven out of the 19 maternity units. There is partial access in seven units and none at all in five.

Dr O’Donoghue said her role as a fetal medicines specialist is to provide information, care and support for pregnant women where it was clear that the baby was not going to survive.

She stressed the importance of providing access to all parents during pregnancy, to facilitate their choice and to ensure that they got the care they needed.

“We make palliative care available to parents during the pregnancy and afterwards. We also offer support to those who choose to terminate their pregnancy. We acknowledge that they have lost their baby and provide follow up care.”

She believed that the whole issue of termination of pregnancy had tied up people up in knots about the provision of anomaly scans.

“There is no doubt that one of the reasons why you offer anomaly scanning is to facilitate choice around the termination of pregnancy. That is just a fact.”


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