Pregnant Hampstead and Kilburn MP calls for NHS ‘risk-free’ Down’s syndrome test
PUBLISHED: 15:19 08 January 2016 | UPDATED: 16:12 08 January 2016
Pregnant MP Tulip Siddiq is calling for the government to make a ‘risk free’ test for Down’s syndrome available on the NHS after she was forced to pay for it privately.
The Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn said she was left with no choice but to pay £400 for a non-invasive test to avoid risk to her unborn daughter.
Ms Siddiq, who is expecting her first child in April, spoke about her personal experience in parliament this week, saying it was unfair that those without the means to pay had to put their pregnancies at risk of miscarriage.
An amniocentesis test which detects whether a child has the condition is available on the NHS.
However it involves putting a needle into the womb to obtain a sample of the foetus’s genetic material which creates a 0.5 per cent chance of miscarriage unlike the private test.
Addressing Ben Gumner, Health Minister, Ms Siddiq said: “At my 12-week scan, I was told that I faced a risk of Down’s syndrome in my child.
“I was given two options. One was an invasive test available on the NHS - the amniocentesis test, which carried a risk of miscarriage. The second was a non-invasive test, which was not available on the NHS and cost £400.
She continued: “Does the Minister agree that the non-invasive test should be rolled out across the country so that mothers, regardless of wealth, can have equal access to screening and do not have to face the unnecessary risk of miscarriage?”
In response, Mr Gumner thanked Ms Siddiq for sharing her personal experience, but said it was important that decisions on screening were non-political.
“We have a clinically-led committee to look at whether screening should be available or not,” he said.
Ms Siddiq has also written to Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary, to ask what he plans to do about making the non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT) available to all.
In her letter, she said: “Unless pregnant women can afford to pay between £300 and £500 for the NIPT, they will be faced with an unnecessary, terrifying risk to their baby’s life chances.
“I was recently faced with this choice, having been told that my baby was at high risk of Down’s syndrome. I am fortunate that I was able to pay the fee required for the NIPT, but I left the experience resolute that this should not be a matter of socioeconomic privilege.
“It is beyond comprehension that in 2015, in a wealthy country such as Britain, that mothers will be exposed to a risk of miscarriage because they cannot afford the safer option. A government that claims to support an NHS ‘free at the point of use’ must accordingly ensure that the safest treatments are available for the patients who need it.”
As well as being safer, the NIPT is also a more effective way of detecting Down’s syndrome, with research by Great Ormond Street Hospital revealing an accuracy rate of about 99 per cent compared to about 84-90 per cent with the amniocentesis.
Ms Siddiq said it was “encouraging” to hear that the NIPT has been made available at NHS hospitals in the North Thames region, but says the fact that it is on offer there means there is “no excuse” for not rolling it out across the rest of the country.