Working together on quality improvements for newborn metabolic screening samples – Transit times

Welcome to a National Screening Unit page for DHB maternity facilities and lead maternity carers.

Visual Diagram of Metabolic Screening process

Thank you for ensuring that newborn metabolic screening samples ('blood spot' or 'Guthrie cards') are received at the laboratory as soon as possible - a baby’s life may depend on it.

The Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme (NMSP) relies on timely testing and transit of samples to the laboratory for testing. Delays in getting your screening samples to the lab means there are considerable risks for babies born with one of the screened disorders.

Improving sample transit times is a priority focus for the NMSP.This quality improvement project is being led by the National Screening Unit and is a collaborative effort with LabPLUS (the laboratory of Auckland City Hospital), DHBs and lead maternity carers (LMCs).

Standards and results

The programme standard is for 95% of samples to reach the laboratory within four calendar days of being taken (transit time).

From July to September 2018, 91.7% of samples reached the laboratory within four days. Between DHBs, this ranged from 80% - 94.6%. Although the programme standard has not been achieved yet, the transit time rates have been improving for the past two years. 

Graph: Percent of samples that reached the lab in 4 days or fewer, July 2016 to September 2018, New Zealand

Percent of samples that reached the lab in 4 days or fewer, July 2016 to September 2018, New Zealand

The NSU reports quarterly to DHBs on their transit times, raising awareness with DHB leads and LMCs, and working with them to identify improved processes.

Sending your samples

Pre-addressed Courier envelopes are available from LabPLUS by emailing [email protected] or calling 09 307 4949 extn 23806.

Courier address


Specimen Reception

Level 3, Building 31, Auckland City Hospital

Gate 4 off Grafton Rd



Support for DHBs

Oversight of the programme at the level of DHB service provision is crucial for the delivery of safe, high quality screening programmes. This includes:

  • having clear accountabilities for checking DHB performance against programme indicators
  • ensuring there are standard operating procedures for the day-to-day operational management of programme activities.

The inclusion of NMSP indicators in the Maternity Quality and Safety Programme planning, and ongoing in-service education are examples of DHBs’ commitment to this project.

The NSU has developed Metabolic screening sample process poster (docx, 131 KB) to support the quality improvement work in maternity facilities. This outlines the metabolic screening process in a simple graphic, there is room to add your DHB specific instructions. Hang them in prominent places to raise awareness.

Send us your feedback

Improving transit times for newborn metabolic screening is a collaborative effort and your contribution to this quality improvement initiative is much appreciated. We welcome and value your feedback on these resources and suggestions for anything else we can do to make the quality improvement process easier for you and your team.

Please do not hesitate to contact Moira McLeod, Programme Leader, NMSP on (09) 580 9086 or by email [email protected].

Page last updated: 11 May 2020