No national screening for sickle cell gene
Protocols for testing pregnant women for the sickle cell gene vary widely across Irish maternity hospitals, data provided by the Health Service Executive reveals.
Some hospitals do not routinely test for the gene, others test only in very limited circumstances while several others provide the test more widely.
Sickle cell anaemia, which primarily affects people of African ethnic origin, was virtually unknown in Ireland, but the number of cases has increased with the rise in immigration in recent decades. About 400 children attend a centre for the disease at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin.
However, most of the State’s 19 maternity units test for the disease in only limited circumstances. Among the big three maternity hospitals in Dublin, the Rotunda undertakes tests based on ethnicity, the Coombe offers the test to all women of non-Caucasian origin while the National Maternity Hospital says it does not test pregnant women for the disease.
“In the rare cases where clinical issues arise, the hospital refers women to their GP for testing. It routinely has the relevant babies [non-Caucasian] tested in Crumlin as the hospital has not been funded to set up on-site testing,” according to the NMH.
In contrast, Sligo Regional Hospital says it tests all women of African ethnic background to see if they carry the sickle cell gene.
Waterford Regional Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda do not carry out the test and say they have no plans to introduce it. However, Waterford says it receives occasional requests from obstetricians which are referred to its testing laboratory.
The information was supplied by the HSE in response to a parliamentary question from Labour TD Robert Dowds. It says there are no national guidelines for testing pregnant women for the disease and there are no plans to commission any.