A screening procedure should be in place enabling newborn babies to be checked for potentially life-threatening heart defects, researchers say.
Doctors could carry out a simple and painless test that measures blood oxygen levels in babies as a matter of routine, according to a major study carried out by UK researchers.
The pulse oximetry test works by having small skin sensors placed on the hands or feet of newborn babies and scientists say that it can identify congenital heart defects, which otherwise doctors may not be able to pick up on.
The research, which lasted for nearly a year, tested the accuracy of the procedure on more than 20,000 babies born at six maternity units across the West Midlands. In all cases the babies appeared to be healthy at birth. A total of 53 cases of major congenital heart disease were identified by the test, 24 of which were critical.
Of these, doctors already suspected an abnormality in 35 cases following ultrasound examinations. However, ultrasound had failed to pick up on 18 cases identified by pulse oximetry.
"My little girl was born with a hole in the heart which was not detected until she became unwell and was taken to a doctor suffering flu symptoms. He listened to her chest and detected an abnormal heart beat. She was referred to hospital and ultrasound confirmed the hole. She is nearly 4 now and the hole has closed up and she is very well" - Alan Green, Stockport
"I agree my niece's baby was born with a heart condition which was not picked up until it was nearly too late" - Eve Cheema, Harrogate