July 14, 2008

‘Lack of Information’ on Foetal Disorders

Antenatal screening services for conditions such as Down's syndrome do not always give parents the time needed to make decisions about their unborn babies, according to work done by Plymouth researchers.

A report published yesterday by the universities of Plymouth and Ulster raises a number of concerns about the way antenatal screening is carried out across the country.

The report concludes: "There are significant groups of parents who are being given insufficient opportunity to consider the options" should their unborn child be found to have Down's or another condition. It calls for more information to be made available, such as a DVD or book, using images to communicate key points.

The research was led by Dr Heather Skirton, deputy head for research of the School of Nursing and Community Studies at the University of Plymouth, and Dr Owen Barr, head of the School of Nursing at the University of Ulster.

It was funded by the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities, which is part of the Mental Health Foundation.

Dr Skirton said: "Our research has shown that parents think knowing about the life of a person with Down's syndrome is important when making their decision about screening, but only half the parents in the study had ever known a person with Down's syndrome.

"Balanced information about what it is like to have the condition or raise a child with Down syndrome is needed", she added.

At present countrywide, women are offered screening at between 11 and 16 weeks for Down's syndrome, and a detailed ultrasound scan at 19 or 20 weeks which can reveal other conditions.

Derriford's maternity services this week introduced a new screening service for Down's Syndrome. All pregnant women will be offered screening in the first trimester of pregnancy, including a blood test from 10 weeks' gestation and a dating/nuchal scan between 11 weeks' and 13 weeks and six days' gestation.

Researchers gathered views from 135 prospective parents and 100 health professionals, mainly midwives, across the UK to find out what sort of information was given out at antenatal screenings and to find out how they felt the process could be improved.

The research has already been presented to the head of the antenatal section of the UK National Screening Committee and Dr Skirton and Dr Barr say they are hopeful that it could lead to improvements being made to the service.

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