Ground-breaking congenital heart screening test saving lives across the world | News

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Ground-breaking congenital heart screening test saving lives across the world

A ground-breaking test to identify newborn babies with critical congenital heart defects pioneered by experts at Birmingham Women’s Hospital is now helping to save lives across the globe.

The non-invasive screening procedure, which monitors oxygen in the blood, is now used in many hospitals both in the UK and further afield after being devised through the PulseOx study, led by Professor Andrew Ewer.

The study, which involved 20,000 babies across the West Midlands, found the test was successful in diagnosing serious heart conditions developed in the womb, and other important conditions in newborn babies such as infections and breathing problems, that can go undetected during antenatal ultrasound scans and initial examinations.

Around 1,400 babies in the UK are born with a critical congenital heart defect each year. With these conditions the baby can look apparently healthy after birth but suddenly present with life-threatening collapse and many may die as a result.

Less than half of these conditions are diagnosed before birth and routine examinations miss up to one third. Early identification significantly improves the outcome for these babies and in many cases can be life-saving. The same is true for the early identification of serious infections and breathing problems.

Over a three and half year period, Birmingham Women’s  Hospital, part of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust and home to the largest fetal medicine unit outside of London, has identified 165 babies with potentially serious illness after performing the test, helping save lives and reduce the risk of long-term impacts on health.

Following publication of the results of the study, funded by the National Institute of Health Research, in 2011 the simple test, which offers instant results, has been recommended across the United states (4 million babies per year screened), Norway, Germany, Spain and many other countries. In the UK 40% of all maternity units are using the test and the UK National Screening Committee is currently considering national adoption.

Andrew Ewer, Professor of Neonatal Medicine at the University of Birmingham and Honorary Consultant Neonatologist at Birmingham Women’s Hospital has also recently published a Cochrane review of the pulse oximetry screening, which included data from almost half a million screened babies and a European consensus statement recommending Europe-wide adoption.

Professor Ewer said:

“A great deal of work has taken place in Birmingham, which has included many people committed to pulse oximetry screening, to show that this simple test does work and, most importantly, helps save the lives and reduce the long-term impact felt due to critical congenital heart defects and other serious conditions that may have gone previously undetected.

“Everyone involved here at Birmingham Women’s, which includes all of our families that have helped us, has made a real difference not just for the babies we care for, but for so many others across the globe.”

Sarah-Jane Marsh, Chief Executive at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“Research plays a vital role in improving services for our women and babies and it’s something that so important to us. I’m so proud that this life-saving test developed by our expert teams at our Women’s Hospital is having such a positive impact and I’m sure will continue to grow and help save countless more lives in the future.”