SMOKING BREATH TESTS IN PREGNANCY; Now Health Watchdog Tells Midwives to Challenge Every Mother-to-Be

Article excerpt

Byline: Daniel Martin Health Correspondent

ALL pregnant women are to be put under pressure to take a breath test to check if they are telling the truth about smoking.

Midwives will be told to 'encourage' mothers-to-be to have the carbon monoxide tests at their very first antenatal appointment.

This will reveal whether they are being honest about whether they smoke and, if so, how much. The 'intrusive' new guidance comes from NHS watchdog NICE and critics insist it is yet another example of nanny state meddling. NICE hopes that showing mothers how much of the toxic carbon monoxide is in their body will shock them into realising the harm they could be doing to their child.

Women who fail the test should be offered stop-smoking services.

NICE says this will protect thousands of unborn babies and small children from the harmful effects of tobacco. The partners of pregnant women will also be urged to quit - over fears of the harmful effects of passive smoking on the foetus.

Last night midwives reacted with fury to the guidance - saying the tests could undermine trust by forcing them virtually to accuse new mothers of lying.

And critics rounded on NICE, which was set up by Labour to assess which drugs and treatments should be available on the NHS, accusing it straying beyond its remit by seeking to influence yet more aspects of people's lives. Earlier this month the organisation was derided for telling GPs to routinely question patients on their alcohol use.

In the past week alone it has demanded that children as young as five be given sex and relationships lessons at school and called for state handouts to food companies to persuade them to produce healthier fare.

NICE - the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence - says it has a duty to speak up because such action can save the NHS millions of pounds in treatments later.

The latest guidance did not go down well with parents' groups. Justine Roberts of website Mumsnet, said women would be put under so much pressure to have the test that it would be virtually compulsory.

'Of course midwives should offer support to pregnant women who smoke to help them stop but a compulsory test seems intrusive,' she said. 'Most pregnant women are fully aware that smoking is bad for their unborn child and would be keen to cut down or stop and avail themselves of any help offered.'

Sue Macdonald, research manager at the Royal College of Midwives, questioned the emphasis on the carbon monoxide monitor, saying it could make women feel they were being treated as liars - and could also hinder the battle against superbugs. …