Exploring the perspective of midwives involved in offering serum screening for Down's syndrome in Northern Ireland


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Abstract

Aims.To explore the perspective of midwives offering serum screening for Down's syndrome.Background.Previous literature has indicated that the offer and discussion of prenatal serum screening tests with women is complex, and health professionals may influence women's decisions to accept or decline screening. Midwives are usually the key professional to offer serum screening for Down's syndrome in the UK but their perspective is relatively neglected in the literature.Design.An explorative qualitative interview study with 15 midwives employed in a maternity unit in Northern Ireland involved in offering prenatal screening to pregnant women. Data were collected from 1 July 2005–31 October 2005.Methods.A focused ethnographic approach was used to explore the perspective of midwives.Results.Midwives reported difficulty in explaining the test to women and felt unable to provide the necessary information to adequately inform women within their appointment time. The test offered (the triple test) and potential pathway of subsequent care, were identified as sources of professional and personal conflict by midwives. The expectation that midwives would provide a universal offer of Down's syndrome serum screening but be unable to support women regarding termination of pregnancy also created dissonance.Conclusions.The feasibility of proceeding with a universal serum screening programme for Down's syndrome is questionable in countries which legally or culturally oppose termination of pregnancy. Professionals practising within environments such as this experience conflict in their role, which affects communication with women when discussing screening tests.Relevance to clinical practice.As midwives are often, the primary health professional providing information to women, it is important that midwives are key participants in ongoing planning and discussions about screening policy to ensure programmes are implemented successfully.

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