Pregnancy and newborn screening developments in the Western Isles

The Western Isles Maternity Service is strengthening its screening services to ensure all women receive the best possible service for each individual pregnancy.

Screening aims to identify those at risk of having a certain disease or condition before the onset of any symptoms. The latest developments to the pregnancy and newborn screening programme for pregnant women and newborn babies are being made across Scotland to strengthen and extend existing services and to provide more accurate testing.

NHS Western Isles is now offering Combined Ultrasound and Biochemical Screening (CUBS) between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy. This involves the pregnant woman having a scan which measures the space in the tissue at the back of the baby’s neck. This is called ‘nuchal translucency’. At the same time, a sample of blood is taken from the woman. This test screens for Down’s Syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities.

NHS Western Isles Senior Midwifery Manager Catherine Macdonald said: “This new test is performed earlier than the previous screening test we carried out, which was called the Alpha Fetal Protein (AFP) test. This was a blood test only, which was performed between 16 and 20 weeks. For this reason we are encouraging local pregnant women to book an appointment with a midwife early in their pregnancy. The AFP test will continue to be available for women who book too late to be eligible for CUBS.”

Also new to the screening programme is ‘haemoglobinopathy screening’ during pregnancy. ‘Haemoglobinopathies’ are a large group of inherited blood disorders which affect the haemoglobin (oxygen carrying) component of the blood. NHS Western Isles now offers screening for haeminoglobinopathies to all pregnant women. Ideally this blood test should be taken early in pregnancy (ideally by 10 weeks), and is offered along with other blood tests at the booking visit.

In terms of newborn screening, there has been an extension of the newborn bloodspot screening programme which provides an opportunity for your baby to be screened for two additional inherited conditions; Medium Chain Acyl Dehydrogenase Deficiency (MCADD) and Sickle Cell Disorder (SCD). This test involves a midwife obtaining a small amount of blood from a baby’s heel when the baby is five days old.

Bloodspot screening to date has also included testing for Cystic Fibrosis, Congenital Hypothyroidism and Phenylketonuria.

Mrs Macdonald said: “Testing for specific conditions early in your baby’s life gives the best chance of identifying, investigating and, if appropriate, managing any underlying conditions.

“We are delighted to now be offering such a comprehensive newborn and pregnancy screening programme in the Western Isles, to enable us to provide the best possible service to local women and babies. We also continue to provide parents with the best possible information and advice to help them make informed choices about their care and treatment, both in pregnancy and when their baby is born.”