Pregnancy unit ‘failing’ to provide weekly care

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HEALTH bosses may be putting pregnant women at risk by denying them access to a unit that can spot potentially fatal conditions, a report suggests.

Early pregnancy units play a key role in diagnosing ectopic pregnancies and providing support during miscarriages.

But Doncaster Royal Infirmary’s unit is not following guidance issued by he National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) which states the department should be open seven days a week. NICE believed this is potentially leaving some women having to wait a weekend before seeing medics.

Professor Mary Lumsden, professor of gynaecology at Glasgow University, and chairman of NICE said: “There are around 200 early pregnancy assessment clinics around the UK but the level of service is very variable. Some centres do have units that already work seven days a week, others a five-day service and some three mornings a week.

“If you only have a service that is, say, five days a week then if a woman starts having a problem on Friday she may have to wait until Monday morning to be seen in an expert service or have to go via the emergency services.

“The provision of a seven-day early pregnancy assessment services will go a long way towards promoting good, timely diagnoses of ectopic pregnancies and miscarriage and will help to ensure all women receive excellent care.

The unit is Doncaster is only open Monday to Friday as is the one in Rotherham. No unit in the county is open seven days a week, says NICE.

The majority of pregnancies progress successfully but around one in five will result in a miscarriage, while ectopic pregnancies occur in 11 per 1,000 pregnancies. About two-thirds of deaths caused by ectopic pregnancy are associated with substandard care, due to missed or late diagnosis.

NICE’s recommends regional services be organised so that an assessment service is available seven days a week.

Deirdre Fowler, head of midwifery at Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals, said she understood the anxiety women may feel with complications during pregnancy and that patients can be directly referred to the gynaecology ward for assessment and treatment outside the unit’s opening hours of 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday.

She added: “We also provide a facility for out of hours scans for those women where clinical signs and symptoms indicate.”