PREGNANT women at risk of having a baby with Down’s syndrome will be offered a new test at Southend Hospital.

The chronic villous sampling will be available at the hospital saving expectant mums a journey up to London to have the test.

The simple biopsy procedure, which can be done from when a woman is 11 weeks to 16 weeks pregnant, takes about five minutes and involves taking a sample of cells from the placenta.

Southend will become the only hospital in Essex to give the test from January 15.

Tulika Singh, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said: “The amniocentesis test for Down’s syndrome has been widely available for many years but is done later in pregnancy, from 15 weeks.

New scientific advances have made it possible to test before 15 weeks and thereby provide women with an earlier result to help make decisions.”

If a test is positive, the woman will be offered counselling and talked through the choices available.

Khalil Razvi, business unit director of women and children’s services at the hospital, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said: “We are now able to offer a full suite of testing, including high-level scanning and invasive testing.

“We were offering a screening test before, but now we have the diagnostic test for those women found to be a high risk.”

Mandy Waller, antenatal and newborn screening coordinator, added: “By expanding our services, we are reducing the need for pregnant women to travel to London. There will still be some women who have to go there for very specialised care, but we have and will continue to maintain excellent relationships with these tertiary referral centres.”