Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Obstetrics

The rise of the souvenir scanners: ultrasonography on the high street

BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 23 July 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m1321
  1. Sally Howard, freelance journalist
  1. London, UK
  1. sal{at}

Private scanning outlets are mushrooming, finds Sally Howard, but some pregnant women are dissatisfied with their services, and experts worry they could be causing harm

At least 250 private ultrasound clinics have sprung up across UK high streets in recent years. The market leader, Ultrasound Direct, offers a plethora of imaging, including “4D bonding scans” that simulate a moving 3D fetus, a service not offered by the NHS.1

NHS trusts offer two obstetric screenings, at 12 and 20 weeks, to detect multiple pregnancies, assess gestational age, and detect fetal anomalies, typically charging £5 (€5.70; $6.20) for a black and white souvenir print.2 A few trusts offer a third trimester scan.

So called souvenir scanning has grown to meet demand from women who want extra reassurance, with costs of up to £250 each time. Some want modalities that the NHS does not routinely offer, such as doppler scanning which audibly simulates the fetal heartbeat. And some find NHS scans rushed or want imaging souvenirs, such as DVDs or keyrings.

But The BMJ has learnt of several reports of inaccurate interpretation by souvenir scanners (box 1). Experts say that such scanning can give pregnant women false reassurance, increase anxiety, and lead to unnecessary NHS referrals. Unlike NHS provision, souvenir scanners’ staff are not required to be qualified in obstetric ultrasonography and many businesses have not been inspected.

Box 1

case studies

A state of anxiety

A woman, who asked not to be named, attended a souvenir scanning outlet at 35 weeks pregnant. She sought reassurance about the position of her second fetus, as …

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