Call for GPs to take action to boost pregnancy screening

Ninety-five per cent miss out on sickle cell and thalassaemia screen.

GPs should offer tests for sickle cell and thalassaemia to pregnant women when they first present, after UK research showed that less than 5 per cent of women are being screened by antenatal services.

The findings renew calls for GPs to become more involved in maternity care, and coincide with the DoH pledge to recruit 4,000 extra midwives to relieve pressure on maternity services.

Sickle cell and thalassaemia screening should be offered to women before 10 weeks' pregnancy. But research on 1,441 pregnancies taken from 25 general practices has shown that just 4.4 per cent of women were screened before the tenth week of pregnancy.

This is despite 74 per cent of women having their pregnancy confirmed by their GP before 10 weeks' gestation.

Lead researcher Dr Theresa Marteau, from King's College, London, said: 'A way to improve screening rates is for GPs to offer the blood tests as pregnancy is confirmed in primary care.

'GPs could also offer the tests to women before they become pregnant so that they can identify if they are carriers of sickle cell or thalassaemia.'

Dr Sarah Jarvis, RCGP spokeswoman for women's health and a GP in west London, said: 'There would need to be extra funding in place for this and a change in national policy.'

Dr Alison Streetly, director of the NHS Sickle Cell and Thalassaemia Screening Programme, called for better communication between GPs and maternity services.

'This means either providing screening in primary care or minimising the delay between primary care and seeing a midwife,' she said.

BJGP 2008; 58: 154-60

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