Pregnancy screening is offered at various stages of pregnancy to all women in Scotland during their routine antenatal appointments. Screening aims to find out the chance of the woman or unborn child having certain health conditions at the earliest opportunity.

Newborn screening is offered to all babies in the first days and weeks of their life. Screening tests can take place shortly after birth while still in hospital, or during home health visitor appointments. Screening aims to detect certain health conditions of the baby when treatment can be offered and likely to be more effective. 

We developed a checklist with NHS Education for Scotland for health professionals involved in pregnancy and newborn screening programmes. It contains tips and techniques that can be used when discussing the pregnancy and newborn screening tests with expectant and new parents.

• All screening, diagnostic tests and appropriate treatment are provided free in Scotland by the NHS.
• Pregnant women will be offered a number of blood tests throughout pregnancy and two ultrasound screening scans. One between 11 and 14 weeks of pregnancy and a second between 18 and 21 weeks of pregnancy. Scans are safe for the pregnant woman and unborn baby.
• The scan between 18 and 21 weeks is used to look for the main health problems affecting the development of the baby’s brain, spinal cord, bowel, kidneys, limbs, and heart.
• Ultrasound scans are not 100% accurate. Sometimes there are health problems that cannot be picked up by the scan.
• Newborn screening includes a hearing test, a bloodspot test, and a physical examination.
• The newborn bloodspot test enables nine conditions to be screened for at once.
• In 2016/17 there were around 54,000 births in Scotland.

Screening and health inequalities

Participating in pregnancy and newborn screening is an important part of detecting a health condition and reducing the risk and harm associated with the condition. There tends to be a high uptake for screening tests offered by the Scottish Pregnancy and Newborn Programme.

There is limited evidence around the reasons for people not taking part in the screening programme. Uptake could be lower amongst people

  • living in the most deprived areas
  • whose first language is not English 
  • with learning disabilities.

Healthcare and screening service providers have important roles to play in ensuring people are encouraged, and enabled, to make a decision about their screening appointment. Easily accessible resources in the right format and language can help pregnant women and new parents understand the information and make a decision that is right for them. 

Local and national action

National Services Division (NSD) evaluates and monitors the Scottish Pregnancy and Newborn Screening Programme. They have developed a website to support healthcare professionals working in the pregnancy and newborn screening programmes (external website). It provides online access to training materials, standardised national protocols and care pathways. 

In 2008, the Scottish Government issued a Chief Executive letter (PDF, 107 KB) (external website) to all NHS Boards outlining a number of changes and developments to strengthen and extend the pregnancy and newborn screening programmes. The Scottish Government issued an update (PDF, 72KB) (external website) in 2010.

NHS Boards ensure that the pregnancy and newborn screening services meet the NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland standards (2005). A revision of the standards began in 2016.

Public information resource

We work closely with NSD, local NHS Boards and other colleagues to produce public information resources to support the pregnancy and newborn screening programme.  Information has been produced in English, some alternative languages and easy-read format.

You can contact your local resource office or email NHS Health Scotland publications team to request copies of our pregnancy and newborn screening resources. 

We also produce leaflets to support people who have had a blood condition detected through screening. These leaflets are about the blood conditions haemoglobinopathy, sickle cell and beta thalassaemia. The blood condition leaflets are available in English, Urdu, Polish, Chinese, Arabic and easy-read format. They are not available in print. 

The Your baby´s visit to the audiology clinic’ leaflet provides useful information if your baby has been referred to the audiology clinic for a further hearing test. The ‘Your baby has a hearing loss’ leaflet answers some common questions and describes support available for parents and families of babies who have a hearing loss.

NHS inform provides further pregnancy (external website) and newborn (external website) screening information for the public. Information includes each screening test and screening results.