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Hospital admits baby tests blunder

May 30, 2000

An investigation has been launched after more than 150 pregnant women were wrongly given test results telling them they had a low risk of giving birth to a Down's syndrome baby, it was revealed today.

An error in the computer software used by the Department of Immunology at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital NHS Trust meant 154 mothers-to-be were wrongly told they were in the low risk category.

John Watts, acting chief executive of the Northern General Hospital NHS Trust, said: "This is a most unfortunate incident and means 154 women have moved from the low risk to the high risk category.

"It does not follow that the women concerned will give birth to a Down's syndrome baby, but they are at a higher risk of doing so."

The Trust is contacting all the women involved to offer them further tests, clinical support and advice.

"We have identified all the women affected by the error and should have contacted all of them by the end of tomorrow," said Mr Watts.

"If you have any concerns, contact your normal ante-natal facility for further advice or ring NHS Direct."

Most of the women affected are said to be in the over-35 age group and were given a routine blood screening test between the 14th and 18th weeks of their pregnancy.

Hospital experts said it was not possible to say how many of the women would go on to have Down's syndrome babies, but they added that terminations were still possible for women likely to give birth to severely handicapped babies, even if they have passed the normal 24 week period.

Mr Watts said the women affected were in the 18th to the 35th weeks of their pregnancy.

The problem was traced during a routine audit to computers used by the Department of Immunology's laboratory department.

Mr Watts said the error was caused by a glitch in the computer software and dated from January 4 the May 24. Action had now been taken to correct it.

He added: "The correct information was being punched in, but because of the faults the numbers being pushed out were very different. The inquiry will ensure we can put in place procedures to stop this happening again."

It is stressed that no patients who have previously undergone an amniocentesis test are affected by this error.

The Trust has agreed with regional director of public health Dr Lindsey Davies to undertake a full inquiry into the incident and has pledged to make the results public.

Medical director Dr Colin Hardisty said: "This only affects a small number of the people who were tested.

"On behalf of the Trust I would like to sincerely apologise to all the women and their family's for whom this will have caused anxiety and concern. Our prime concern is to ensure these women are now seen speedily."

The 154 women whose results are affected are patients of the following Hospital Trusts: Barnsley District General Hospital, Chesterfield and North Derbyshire Royal Hospital, Doncaster Royal Infirmary, Grimsby Maternity Hospital, The Jessop Hospital for Women and the Northern General Hospital in Sheffield, Rotherham District General Hospital, Scunthorpe General Hospital and Worksop Hospital.

The Trust said the software system at fault was not used at any other hospitals in the country for the same purpose. National figures show 1.3 women in every thousand placed in the high risk category go on to have Down's syndrome babies - but doctors say the degree of risk increases with a mother's age.

Although the women directly affected are being contacted personally, the Trust says anyone with concerns should call NHS Direct on 0845 4647.


-- (, May 30, 2000

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