Congenital anomaly clusters may be going undetected in UK

By Piriya Mahendra, MedWire Reporter

A lack of national surveillance of congenital anomalies in England and Wales may lead to clusters of congenital conditions going unnoticed, say UK researchers.

The BINOCAR (British Isles Network of Congenital Anomaly Registers) report collated data from six regional registers, which collectively covers 35% of the births in England and Wales. Data from Wales, Oxfordshire, Berkshire, and Buckinghamshire; Northern England, South West England, East Midlands and South Yorkshire, and Wessex were included.

However, data were not available for some other major regions of the UK, including London, the South East, North West, and East Anglia.

Speaking to MedWire News, editor of the report, Joan Morris (Queen Mary University of London) said that because London accounts for such a large proportion of the total number of births in the UK, the lack of congenital anomaly monitoring is of concern.

"If there is an increase in any specific anomaly that was occurring just in those regions, potentially in London, you wouldn't pick it up at all," she explained.

"We can't pick up any sudden increases accurately or quickly enough, and we can't look at regional differences."

The report found that 2.2% of babies had a congenital anomaly in England and Wales in 2010. The most common anomalies were congenital heart defects, which affected at least five in 1000 births. Around 7% of babies born with a heart anomaly died before the age of 1 year.

Neural tube defects, including spina bifida, and gastroschisis both affected one in 1000 babies.

The analysis also showed that the prevalence of congenital anomalies in England and Wales was consistent with those of other European registers.

Although the numbers and types of congenital anomalies have been monitored since the 1960s in the UK, lack of funding has led to closure of the national system and some regional registers. However, Morris said there is hope for expansion of the regional registers to undertake national monitoring.

"The report demonstrates that when we have sufficient funding in an area, we can produce excellent data on the congenital anomalies. It highlights that we are missing a lot of the country and it demonstrates that there are no dramatic increases in any specific anomalies," she remarked.

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