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Report into newborn hearing screening released

The Ministry of Health has released its findings into an incident which led to 2000 babies being recalled for newborn hearing screening.

An investigation by the National Screening Unit (NSU) found that some screeners at six DHBs had not carried out screening according to the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme protocol.  The investigation identified that these screeners were not correctly testing the babies’ ears and therefore potentially missed detection of hearing loss.

NHB Director National Services Purchasing, Jill Lane says the 21 recommendations in the investigation are aimed at strengthening both DHB service provision and the leadership and monitoring of the programme by the NSU.

“We’re confident that newborn hearing screening is effective when the correct protocol is followed. The investigation has given us an opportunity to strengthen the programme so we’ll be working with DHBs to implement the recommendations,” Jill Lane says.

Approximately 60,000 newborn babies are screened each year through the hearing programme. The number of babies who were affected by this incident was about 1.4 per cent of all babies screened.

The families of the affected babies continue to be offered rescreening for their child and were given the first opportunity to read the investigation report.

Waikato and Hawkes Bay DHBs are still conducting investigations into whether the correct protocol was followed. Should any issues be identified at these DHBs, families of any babies affected will also be offered an opportunity for rescreening.

Hutt Valley DHB Head Audiologist, Kylie Bolland, says it’s important that parents participate in what is an essential and effective screening programme.

“We really encourage families of those babies who may not have been screened properly and have been invited for a rescreen to do so as soon as possible. The service is free and the process takes only about 20 minutes to complete. Families can contact their local DHB directly for a time that suits them,” Kylie Bolland says.

Auckland DHB Director of Child Health, Dr Richard Aickin, says it’s vital that children are screened early in life.

“Early detection of hearing loss means the possibility of dealing with the issue earlier and reducing the impact on the child. Evidence shows that if intervention, such as cochlear implants and hearing aids, are provided for congenital hearing loss within the first 12 months of life, there is a significant reduction in the long-term effects on their language and communication development,” Dr Aickin says.

Any parent or guardian who has concerns about their child’s hearing should contact their family doctor or Well Child provider. For comment from DHBs, please contact their respective Communications Managers or www.waikatodhb.health.nz/newbornscreening

Summary

The Quality improvement review of a screening event in the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme (UNHSEIP) details the findings into an incident which led to 2000 babies being recalled for newborn hearing screening.

Since 2010 all 20 district health boards (DHBs) have offered hearing screening to newborns as part of the UNHSEIP. The programme aims to identify babies with moderate to severe permanent hearing loss early, so they and their families can access timely intervention to support the development of speech and language.

An investigation by the National Screening Unit (NSU) found that some screeners at six DHBs had not carried out screening according to the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme protocol. The investigation identified that these screeners were not correctly testing the babies’ ears and therefore potentially missed detection of hearing loss.

The investigation has made 21 recommendations aimed at strengthening both DHB service provision and the leadership and monitoring of the programme by the NSU. These include:

  • greater access to training
  • professional development and support for screeners
  • better monitoring of the equipment screeners use and the information they collect
  • clearer guidance on following protocol
  • establishing a clinical governance framework for the programme in DHBs
  • setting up a national database for quality monitoring.

ENDS

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