Children deserve better - Foetal abnormality scans

IT is a scandal that an ultrasound pregnancy scan offered routinely to pregnant mothers in the UK and other countries is only available on the same basis here in Dublin but not elsewhere in the country.

A child’s life may well depend on where in the country it is born or on the depth of his or her parents’ pockets.

In other words, it’s pot luck.

Fewer than half the pregnant women attending the majority of the country’s maternity units can access a 20-week foetal anomaly scan, a diagnostic tool that can, literally, mean the difference between life and death.

The problem is that the majority of foetal anomalies occur in women who have no obvious recognised risk factors, so problems only come to light when scanning is done on all pregnant women at 20 to 22 weeks.

At the moment, these foetal anomaly scans are only available at just six of the 19 maternity units in Ireland and, even at that, they are not available to everyone.

Even our finest hospitals are unable to offer the neccessary care. Since it opened with much fanfare in 2007, the CUMH, Ireland’s newest maternity hospital, has never been in a position to offer a foetal anomaly ultrasound scan in the second trimester to all women attending the antenatal service.

It came close, rising from just 10% in 2008 to 70% in 2015 but has since dropped back to less than one third, thereby exposing exposes pregnant women attending CUMH, as well as clinicians and midwives, to an unacceptable level of risk, not the mention the risk for the child.

The same, dismal scenario is repeated in other maternity units outside of Dublin.

A pregnant woman booking for antenatal care in any hospital in the UK would, as matter of course, have a 20 to 22 week anomaly scan, a service that is only available in selected hospitals here.

It is little wonder, then, that mothers affected and their doctors have come together to campaign for a safe, secure and full antenatal service for women in Ireland.

Even when a child has an incurable condition and is unlikely to survive long after birth, it is only right that the mother should be prepared for this in advance and make herself psychologically prepared for that eventuality.

At the moment, that does not happen and neither do they have the opportunity to avail of prenatal palliative care to enable them to prepare for their baby’s inevitable death.

As it is, many Irish women only find out that their child has a serious condition just prior to, or after, delivery.

As we heard repeatedly last year during 1916 commemoration ceremonies, the Proclamation of the Republic guaranteed to “cherish all the children of the nation equally”. That, of course, refers to adults as well, but why not at least ensure that newborns are given a fighting chance for life?

The HSE has responsibility in this area but, as chief policy maker, the buck stops at Health Minister Simon Harris.

The children of the nation deserve better.


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