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Earlier screening for serious abnormalities in pregnancy

Officials have recommended earlier screening for two serious abnormalities in pregnancy. 

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) has called for earlier tests for Edward's Syndrome and Patau's Syndrome. 

The conditions, also known as Trisomy 18 and Trisomy 13, are rare but very serious chromosomal (genetic) abnormalities which affect about two out of every 10,000 births in the UK each year. 

Most babies affected by these conditions will die before or shortly after birth.

The abnormalities can be detected through a scan which is currently offered to all women between 18 and 20 weeks of pregnancy in England as part of the NHS Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme. 

But earlier testing which combines a blood test and scan during the woman's first trimester of pregnancy can identify whether the woman has an increased risk of having a baby with one of these conditions.

Through the screening programme, parents can access specialist support before their baby is born and discuss their options leading to appropriate care if it is needed.

Dr Anne Mackie, director of programmes for the UK NSC, which is supported by Public Health England, said: “Over 700,000 women get pregnant in the UK every year, and although over 95% of these pregnancies will be perfectly healthy, sadly, in a few cases there are problems affecting the baby's development. 

"This recommendation would give women access to support and enable them to make important choices at an earlier stage of their pregnancy.”