22 Jun 2021
Today, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives, and Society and College of Radiographers have published a consensus statement on supporting women and their partners through prenatal screening ahead of the roll-out of non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) in the NHS in England.
The statement emphasises the need to provide information, support, and NIPT results to pregnant women and their partners in an unbiased and non-directive way. Women and their partners should be informed about all of their options following screening and be given time and appropriate support to decide upon their next steps. These were key recommendations of our 2017 report on the ethics of NIPT.
NIPT is a screening test where a blood sample from a pregnant woman is used to assess the chance of a fetus having Down’s syndrome, Edwards’ syndrome or Patau’s syndrome. From spring 2021, NIPT will be offered as an additional option for women in England who are found to have a higher chance of having a baby with one of these conditions, following initial screening tests. NIPT has been available on the NHS in Wales since 2018 and Scotland has recently commissioned their NIPT service.
In our report, we recommend that pregnant women and couples should have access to NIPT within an environment that enables them to make autonomous, informed choices. This means it should be offered by healthcare professionals who have the appropriate knowledge and skills. We called for high quality education and training for all professionals involved in NHS prenatal screening, and highlighted the need for accurate, balanced, and non-directive information to be readily available to women and couples.
We are delighted that today’s consensus statement supports our recommendations, building on the work already carried out by the Public Health England screening team to deliver training and information materials.
Hugh Whittall, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics says:
“We have been pleased to see significant shifts in approaches to prenatal screening and the language that surrounds it since we published our inquiry on the ethics of NIPT in 2017. This important statement from three professional bodies is a signifier of that shift. We welcome the messages it sends to all healthcare professionals involved in the delivery of prenatal screening across the UK.”
“The statement couldn’t be clearer: women and couples should be provided with accurate, balanced and non-directive information and support to enable them to make choices at each stage of prenatal screening. Critically, their choices must be fully respected. Whilst this should always have been the case, the introduction of NIPT to the NHS pathway has created an opportunity to ensure a high quality service is being offered consistently.”