The NHS is to examine the issue of pregnancy tests for women of child-bearing age before surgery after a businesswoman was forced to abort her baby following a minor operation.
Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, NHS medical director for England, said he will investigate what changes needed to be implemented after the Sunday Telegraph reported that Louise Pellegrino, 37, underwent surgery to remove a cyst in her breast without knowing she was pregnant with her third child.
Subsequent tests showed that her baby had holoprosencephaly, a disorder where the front part of the brain does not develop properly. It has been linked with anaesthesia in early pregnancy and often results in late miscarriage or death soon after birth.
Ms Pellegrino, who aborted the baby at 16 weeks, claims she would not have had the operation if had she known she was pregnant.
Sir Bruce said: “I would like to apologise to Mrs Pellegrino and the other women this has happened to. I want to help build an NHS that learns and here is a typical example where we can put in place a process to reduce the chance of this happening again. I will look at this.
Guidance from The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence in 2003 states that women of childbearing age should be asked if there is a chance they may be pregnant and then possibly be tested. The concern is that this may not be happening.
Sir Bruce added: “To the ordinary person this will seem unnecessary and avoidable. This is not just an issue for the NHS because of the increasing numbers of young women who are undergoing cosmetic procedures in the private sector.”
The National Patient Safety Agency, which covers England, issued a rapid response alert to NHS hospitals and those in the private sector in 2010 after there were a number of miscarriages following surgery.