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Failures of private baby scanning highlight need for professional regulation

20 November, 2020
Gill Harrison, SoR Professional Officer for Ultrasound
Gill Harrison, SoR Professional Officer for Ultrasound

The SoR has welcomed a BBC news investigation - which revealed poor practice across private baby scanning services - as reinforcing its campaign for professional regulation of sonographers.

The Society was consulted extensively in the BBC’s research, which highlights issues that officers have been lobbying the government and regulators to address for years.

The investigation focused on boutique services that offered ‘reassurance’ scans and souvenirs which had missed or failed to refer serious problems with babies to the NHS.

There are now more than 200 private studios performing hundreds of thousands of scans per year, which should be regulated by the Care Quality Commission (CQC).

The CQC has recently updated its guidance for expectant parents seeking a private baby scanning service.

SoR professional officer for ultrasound Gill Harrison said: ‘Whilst we know that some SoR members work in private baby scanning services which are well managed and staffed only by appropriately qualified sonographers, the SoR are aware of other boutique ultrasound scanning services who employ people without the same rigorous education, knowledge and clinical competency.

‘A clinic staffed by ‘unqualified’ practitioners could lead to missed abnormalities or inaccurate information being provided.’

Sonography is not a regulated profession so there is nothing to stop this practice but the Society is ‘strongly encouraging’ expectant parents to ask about the qualifications and experience of anyone calling themselves a sonographer or offering an ultrasound service.

Ms Harrison added: ‘We would also recommend that parents ask whether the sonographer is on a statutory register or a voluntary register as a sonographer. The SoR together with other relevant stakeholders continues to lobby the government for statutory regulation of sonographers’.

The updated CQC guidance for expectant parents, suggests they check the type of scan offered and who will be performing the examination. Some souvenir scans are for specific purposes such as gender determination and are only allocated 10 minutes including pictures and writing the report. 

One of the aspects of this environment that is commented upon by a sonographer in the BBC report is of distraction from any diagnostic assessment. The Society is particularly concerned about distraction of sonographers in any context where pregnancy scanning is being undertaken. It is not only in private clinics that important diagnostic tests may be being trivialised and carried out in highly distracting environments.

Ms Harrison said: ‘It is unlikely that in these short scans a thorough examination of the baby can be undertaken. Souvenir scans are not a replacement for the Fetal Anomaly Screening Programme (FASP) scans offered routinely in pregnancy, so emphasis is placed on the need to attend for routine screening scan in addition to any souvenir scans. 

‘Sonographers who perform the FASP scans are highly skilled and undertake these important clinical examinations to check the well-being of babies in pregnancy. They require a high degree of concentration to assess very small structures in great detail and as such are unable to offer the ‘souvenir style’ service that a private clinic can.’

 

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