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The BBC's Richard Hannaford
"This has left dozens of women with an appalling dilemma"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Down's risk 'misdiagnosed'
Blood test
Blood test data was inaccurate
An investigation has been launched after pregnant women were given the wrong information about the risk they would have a child with a genetic disorder.

The women were told they had a low risk of having babies with conditions like Down's syndrome.

But 154 women out of 4,000 tested have now been told that they are actually at higher risk.

It is disgraceful that this had been allowed to happen

Debra Royston, misdiagnosed woman

The tests were processed by the Northern General Hospital, Sheffield, but the women affected attended nine different hospitals in the south Yorkshire area.

The error in processing blood tests has been blamed on computer error.

The problem came to light during an audit of computer software that took place last week.

It appears a computer had been giving out wrong results since the start of January this year.

The affected women are between 18 weeks and 35 weeks through their pregnancy.

'Relatively serious'

The hospital has stressed the mistake does not mean that the women will give birth to a child with Down's syndrome. In fact, the risk is small.

John Watt
John Watt: "We acted as quickly as we could"

Dr Colin Hardesty, medical director of Northern General Hospital, said: "It is relatively serious for any woman that has been affected by this.

"They have been put through undue anxiety, they have been called for further tests, and a reassurance that they had been given has now changed."

John Watt, hospital acting chief executive, told the BBC: "Our major concern is to make sure that the women get all the support that they need."

Mr Watt said clinics and laboratories had been set up to provide help and support.

"We have acted as quickly and as reasonably as we could in the circumstances.

"We need to understand fully why these mistakes took place and to learn any lessons that might arise to make sure that things of this nature do not occur again."

'It is disgraceful'

Debra Royston
Debra Royston: 'Disgraceful'
Debra Royston, 32, was one of the 154 women told by the hospital that there had been a mistake.

She said: "I got a letter at 17 weeks saying I was low risk and we thought everything was okay.

"Now I have been told I am a high risk, with a one in 150 chance of the baby being born with Down's syndrome.

"I think it is disgraceful that this had been allowed to happen. I just got a note in my pre-natal book apologising for the mistake."

She said having the amniocentesis test would increase the risk of a miscarriage.

"If I had the test now I risk losing a perfectly healthy child.

"I already have a weak placenta, so having the test at this late stage is a major worry. I don't know what I am going to do about the test."

Hospitals attended by the women
Barnsley District General
Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal
Doncaster Royal Infirmary
Grimsby Maternity
Jessop Hospital for Women, Sheffield
Northern General, Sheffield
Rotherham District General
Scunthorpe General
Worksop Hospital, Bassetlaw

She said she now plans to take legal advice and was considering suing the Trust.

Carol Boys, chief executive of the Down's Syndrome Association, said: "This has created untold fears and insecurities for many pregnant women, leaving them in a state of limbo where they do not know what to do.

"Screening tests add layers of confusion on to parental fear and insecurities at the best of times.

"However, this case has exacerbated the problems a thousandfold."

The software system used by the Northern General - the Pathlan system - conducts tests which analyse the results of blood tests and other data.

These tests are carried out in early pregnancy and are used to indicate if a woman has a low or high risk of carrying a child with Down's syndrome.

A woman in the high risk category may then decide, in discussion with her consultant obstetrician or gynaecologist, if she would like to undergo further diagnostic tests.

The software in question is not used at any other hospital in the country for this purpose.

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13 Mar 00 | Health
Down's test 'more accurate'
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