Screening tests 

You will be offered screening tests during pregnancy to try to identify if you are at higher risk of any health problems that could affect you or your baby, such as infectious diseases, Down's syndrome, or physical abnormalities. These tests can help you make choices about care or treatment during your pregnancy or after your baby is born. All screening tests are free.

UCLH offers all antenatal and new-born screening tests as recommended by the National Screening Committee and adhere to nationally agreed service specifications and standards.

If you are found to have a high-risk screening test, you may be referred to the Fetal Medicine Unit (FMU) for discussion of further testing options. Our FMU team of highly skilled specialists offer diagnosis and treatment of complications which may arise in unborn babies.

We also provide specialist clinics and follow-up for pregnant women diagnosed with HIV or viral Hepatitis. Although not part of the antenatal and new-born screening programme, follow up is also available for women who have travelled to Zika virus affected areas.

  • What are screening tests?

    Screening tests are used to find people at higher risk of a health problem. This means they can get earlier, potentially more effective, treatment or make informed decisions about their health.

    Screening tests are not perfect. Some people will be told that they or their baby are at high risk of having a health problem when in fact they do not have the problem. Also, a few people will be told that they or their baby are at low risk of having a health problem when in fact they do have the problem.

  • What screening tests are used in pregnancy?

    The screening tests offered during pregnancy are either ultrasound scans or blood tests, or a combination of both.

    Ultrasound scans may detect physical abnormalities, such as spina bifida. Blood tests can help find the risk of inherited disorders such as sickle cell anaemia.

    Blood tests combined with scans can help find the risk of chromosomal abnormalities such as Down's syndrome.

  • What are the risks of screening tests?

    Screening tests will not harm you or your baby, but there are some risks to consider. Some screening tests in pregnancy can lead to serious decisions for you. For example, screening tests for Down's syndrome can lead to difficult decisions about whether to have a diagnostic test that carries a possible risk of miscarriage.

    If the results of diagnostic tests are positive, they can lead to a decision about whether you want to continue or end the pregnancy. Having a further test or termination will always be your decision, and health professionals will support you whatever you decide.

    You may want to think carefully about whether or not you want to have these screening tests.

  • When will I be offered screening?

    Different screening tests are offered at different times during pregnancy.

    The screening test for sickle cell and thalassaemia should be offered before 10 weeks.

    You will be offered screening for Down's syndrome around the time of your dating scan, which happens when you are around 11 to 14 weeks pregnant.

    You will be offered screening for abnormalities at a mid-pregnancy scan when you are around 18-21 weeks pregnant.

  • Will screening tests give me a definite answer?

    No – a screening test does not usually say for certain if you or your baby have a health problem. It tells you if you or your baby are at a high or low risk of having the problem.

    Women or babies found to be at high risk of a problem will often be offered a diagnostic test. A diagnostic test gives a more definite "yes" or "no" answer.

  • Do I have to have the screening tests?

    No – it's up to you whether or not to have a screening test. It is a personal choice that only you can make. You can discuss each of the screening tests you are offered with your midwife or doctor and decide whether or not it is right for you.

    Some of the screening tests you will be offered are recommended by the NHS, such as:

    • blood tests for infectious diseases 
    • eye screening if you have pre-existing diabetes (not gestational diabetes)
    • newborn checks

    This is because the results from these tests can help make sure that you or your baby get urgent treatment for serious problems.

  • What screening tests will I be offered in pregnancy?

    You can find out more about each of the different screening tests by clicking on the links here:

    Some screening tests will also be offered to your baby after they are born. You can read more about these tests by clicking on the links here:

  • Confidentiality

    By law, everyone working in, or on behalf of, the NHS must respect your privacy and keep all information about you safe. The NHS Constitution sets out how the NHS should handle your records to protect your privacy. In addition, there are laws in place to ensure confidentiality is maintained.

    Screening records are only shared with staff who need to see them. Sometimes information is used for audit research purposes to improve screening outcomes and services. Information about this will be provided when you are screened.