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13th Nov 2019

The HSE tells maternity hospitals they must inform pregnant women about foetal anomaly test limitations

foetal anomaly test limitations

Last year, a woman had a termination at the National Maternity Hospital after having gotten the wrong results following a test for foetal anomalies.

An independent review of the case was being carried out by the National Maternity Hospital, but the promised review has yet to begin due to a disagreements over the composition of the review panel.

However, in light of this episode, the HSE’s head of women and infants health programme, Dr Peter McKenna, has now sent instructions to all the State’s maternity hospitals that they are to provide pregnant women with information about the tests’ shortcomings.

In a letter to the heads of the 19 maternity hospitals in the country, Dr McKenna explains it is “timely” to remind staff diagnosing pregnancy anomalies and carrying out terminations of the importance of providing “accurate” information about prenatal testing, particularly non-invasive prenatal testing.

Women coming into the hospitals to undergo prenatal testing must receive information that is “correct, full, individualised and documented.”

This is of particular importance, for instance, when it comes to testing for Down Syndrome, where studies have shown that this type of testing carries a 20 percent risk of an incorrect result.

Dr McKenna in his letter, written in May of this year, explained to staff of maternity hospitals that they should note that the positive predictive value of testing depends on “context and patient profile”.

“This needs to be conveyed clearly to patient in a way that communicates the limited specificity (true negative rate) of this particular test.”