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Pregnancy screening

Published on 08 October 2020

Pregnancy screening programmes

There are a number of screening programmes on offer to pregnant women. These can help identify whether a woman and her baby may have rare but serious conditions.

We have a coordinating role in the provision of pregnancy screening programmes. Supporting the NHS boards and national multidisciplinary groups, we also help develop specifications, protocols and guidance for the programmes to follow. This ensures consistency across the country. Finally, we assist in monitoring and evaluating the programmes.

Changes to pregnancy screening

NHSScotland will be implementing changes to the National Pregancy Screening Programme from 28 September 2020. This follows a recommendation from the UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC).

The following changes will be implemented:

  • Testing for Edwards' syndrome (T18) and Patau's syndrome (T13), as an additional option within the existing first-line blood screening test for Down's syndrome (T21). This is offered during a woman's first trimester of pregnancy.
  • Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), as part of an evaluative roll-out. NIPT will be offered as a second-line screening test for those pregnancies identified as being at a higher chance of the baby having one of the three conditions.
  • Expansion of first-line and second-line screening programmes for Down's syndrome, Edwards' syndrome and Patau's syndrome to include twin pregnancies.

For more information visit the following resources:

Who gets pregnancy screening and how does it work?

Most women who choose to have screening will not have any of the conditions. For the small numbers that do, the benefits of screening are enormous. Early treatment can improve their health and prevent severe disability or even death.

While screening offers a good way to assess how likely it is that a baby has a condition or health problem, it may not detect all issues. Sometimes, the results can also suggest that there may be an issue when there isn't. Screening tests aren't perfect and they can lead to difficult decisions about having further tests or treatment.

It is a woman’s choice whether to accept screening and diagnostic tests. A discussion with a health professional will go into the details. They will explain the benefits and drawbacks screening brings.

There are two types of test:

  • screening tests – offered to everyone, these are intended to show whether there is a chance a mother and her baby may have a condition
  • diagnostic tests – further tests that may be carried out depending on the results of the screening test, to confirm whether the mother or their baby has the condition screened for

Further information for participants:

Find out more about the pregnancy screening programme on the NHS Inform website. It covers:

  • the types of tests you can have
  • how the screening is done
  • the benefits

All pregnant women in Scotland are offered pregnancy screening for the following:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Haemoglobinopathies
  • Down’s syndrome
  • Fetal anomalies

Learn more about each of these conditions on the pages that follow.

Further information for health professionals:

Find the pregnancy and newborn screening indicators on the NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland website.

NSD contact

Senior Programme Manager, Lyn Hutchison – lyn.hutchison@nhs.scot – 0131 2756412