Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Introduce heart tests for babies

As chairperson of the All Party Group on Congenital Heart Disease I will move a debate today calling for the introduction of pulse oximetry as a test for newborn babies.

Pulse oximetry is a straightforward, non-invasive and relatively cheap test to check the levels of oxygen saturation in the blood for new-borns. It is this screening, when combined with new-born clinical examination, which could detect up to three-quarters of critical congenital heart defects that may otherwise go undetected. Importantly these defects could be diagnosed within 24 hours of birth.

The equipment required to carry out the test is portable and the examination can be performed by a junior doctor or midwife.

As part of Congenital Heart Disease Awareness week which ran from February 7-14, the All Party Group ran an information session on pulse oximetry for all MLAs and their staff.

Without improving early detection, a proportion of children with a critical congenital heart defect may die or deteriorate to such a condition that the outcome, despite treatment, is compromised.

Today I will call on the Minister of Health to introduce pulse oximetry screening for all new-borns.

This is not new or untested but is already in place and operational in other countries throughout the world.

The recent high-profile debate on the threat of the future of children's heart surgery in Belfast has highlighted that congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in Northern Ireland.

My wife Jenny and I were fortunate as our son Evan was given a pre-natal diagnosis; unfortunately many parents are not as fortunate.

It is deeply unfortunate that up to 50% of babies with a congenital heart defect may be missed by foetal ultrasound.

The introduction of pulse oximetry testing will not only save money and put many parents' concerns to rest, but overall will undoubtedly save lives.

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