Lifesaving World-First NHS Test For Pregnant Women

A same-day life-saving test to rule out a potentially fatal disease in pregnant women is being rolled out across the NHS.

Known as placental growth factor (PLGF) testing, the new blood test is the first of its kind in the world to rule out pre-eclampsia – a life-threatening condition for both pregnant women and their babies that often results in long hospital stays – and has already helped thousands of expectant mothers.

The test means the condition can be ruled out on the same day, relieving stress and anxiety for those given the all clear, and allowing treatment to swiftly start for those who need it.

Not only does the test provide a quick diagnosis, but it also significantly reduces the need for hospital trips, freeing up clinics and staff workload. 

Currently, 65,000 pregnant women a year are admitted to hospital every year for up to three days to be monitored for the condition.

Women experiencing symptoms, such as high blood pressure and headaches, which usually occur in the second half of pregnancy, will be advised by their GP or midwife to attend hospital for the blood test as part of a full clinical assessment.

Treatments involve medication for high blood pressure or in extreme cases, anticonvulsants to prevent fits if the baby is due.

The new testing is being rolled out as part of the NHS Long Term Plan’s ambitions to invest in more world-class treatments and cutting-edge technologies.

Three-quarters of maternity units are using the test which has helped tens of thousands of women already and will be available across all of England within the next two years.

NHS clinical director for maternity and women's health Matthew Jolly said: “Pre-eclampsia is a life-threatening condition for both mum and baby if left untreated and this is why the NHS takes every precaution possible when soon-to-be mums have some of the early signs like high blood pressure.

“This new way of testing means we can rule out the condition in a much quicker and easier way – it removes the stress that comes with the uncertainty around not having a diagnosis and will reassure thousands of pregnant women every year.”

NHS director of innovation, research and life sciences Matt Whitty said: “This test is quick and easy and can rule out a condition that has for a long time been the of cause such stress to tens of thousands of pregnant women every year, whether they have pre-eclampsia or not.

“This latest innovation will benefit thousands of patients who have until now been put through extensive testing and possible hospital stays as the NHS continues to deliver on ambitious Long Term Plan commitments to provide patients with the most up to date tech, as quickly as possible.”

Rebecca Sanderson has been diagnosed with pre-eclampsia in previous pregnancies, now in her third pregnancy she was offered this innovative test to rule out the condition.

She said: “In my first two pregnancies I was constantly in and out of hospital as I had high blood pressure and protein in my urine, and with my first, I was eventually diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. The frequent monitoring and sometimes long stays in hospital waiting for results meant I had a lot of disruption to my home and work life.

“Now in my third pregnancy I’ve been having some of the symptoms associated with pre-eclampsia again – high blood pressure, headaches, protein in the urine – but this time I had a simple and quick blood test. The test showed that I didn’t need to be admitted to hospital and I was able to go home and be with my family, with the peace of mind that I was okay.”

The NHS tests every pregnant woman who presents with early signs, such as high blood pressure and protein in urine, to make sure mum and baby receive the best possible care; this new test will mean that can be done in a more effective and efficient way.

Historically clinicians have needed to take additional checks with suspected cases because, while most cases are mild, some can be fatal.

Professor Jenny Myers of Obstetrics and Maternal Medicine at The University of Manchester, and a Consultant Obstetrician at Saint Mary’s Hospital said:

“I’m a real advocate for the test as it makes such a big difference to women. It transforms care in lots of situations.

“In terms of ruling out pre-eclampsia, there will be lots of women that come to us with a high blood pressure reading at some point during their pregnancy and although this is a potential sign of pre-eclampsia, in many cases the woman isn’t developing pre-eclampsia. If the PLGF-based test is normal, then we can be confident that pre-eclampsia is not developing over the next 7-14 days and we can safely let that woman go back to her routine antenatal surveillance. Most importantly we can reassure her that everything is looking fine.”

Mumsnet founder and CEO Justine Roberts:  'We know from thousands of discussions on Mumsnet that being at risk of pre-eclampsia means lots of extra tests in pregnancy and causes a great deal of stress and worry right up until delivery. Having a one-shot test will make a big difference to expectant mums and their families."