Cystic fibrosis screen proves cost-effective

Newborn screening for cystic fibrosis (CF) is cost-effective and should be introduced across the UK as soon as possible, say researchers.

Analysis of data from the UK CF database showed that newborn detection of CF could reduce treatment costs up to four fold, compared with clinical diagnosis.

But a third of the UK, including Manchester, Cumbria, London, the Home Counties and areas in the south-west such as Dorset and Wiltshire still lack newborn CF screening facilities.

This is despite government agreement to national roll-out of newborn CF screening in 2001. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland now have full coverage.

The latest study looked at the treatment costs of 184 children aged between one and nine who were diagnosed with CF through newborn screening.

Comparison with 950 children in the same age range who were diagnosed with clinical presentation of the disease, showed that newborn screening cut costs by 60–400 per cent.

Detecting CF in newborns means chronic infection can be prevented, delaying the need for nebulised antibiotics, which can cost up to £7,000 a year, said Dr Jim Littlewood, chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

At James Cook hospital in Leeds, where Dr Littlewood worked, newborn CF screening has been in place since 1975.

As a consequence only 4 per cent of CF patients under 12 have chronic infection. This compares with a national average of 40 per cent, he said.

‘Everybody should be screening by the end of the year,’ said Dr Littlewood. ‘It’s not all that expensive compared with the cost of treating each patient.

‘Neonatal screening is obviously the thing to do, but if you don’t treat them in a proper modern way, it won’t make a difference.’

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