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 2015, 81% of samples reached the laboratory within four days. Between DHBs, this ranged from 62% - 92%.  To put it another way, one in five samples continues to take more than four days to reach the laboratory from collection.

Quarterly monitoring over 2014 and 2015 shows a steady trend downwards in the percentage of samples taking 15 days or more to reach the laboratory

The National Screening Unit, together with the district health boards are developing a new on-line reporting tool. It is planned to make this available on the NSU website once the next reporting period Jan to March 2018 is completed.

Sending your samples

Pre addressed FastPost envelops are available from LabPLUS by emailing, faxing 09 307 2827 or calling 09 307 4949 extn 23806. Please ensure the FastPost envelopes go into the blue FastPost box. Ordinary mail will cause delays.


Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme


PO Box 872

Shortland Street

Auckland 1140

For those DHB's who use courier bags, ensure the courier address below is used.



Specimen Reception

Level 3, Building 31, Auckland City Hospital

Gate 4 off Grafton Rd



Support for lead maternity carers

Individual monitoring and feedback to practitioners can play an important role in maintaining a high quality screening programme.

The NSU sends out reports to individual LMCs providing details on the collection and transit times for newborn metabolic screening samples of babies for whom they were recorded as lead maternity carer. An example of what is included in the report can be seen in this sample transit times report for LMCs (doc, 576.5 KB).

Achieving programme quality standards - key messages for LMCs (pdf, 162.5KB)

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.

Tools and resources

The NSU has developed the tools below to support the quality improvement work in maternity facilities.

The Meeting programme indicators: considerations for DHBs (docx, 105.21 KB) document is a tool to identify potential failure points and preventative factors in the NMSP screening.

The Metabolic screening sample process poster 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.

The NSU PowerPoint presentation Improving newborn screening outcomes for babies (pptx, 4.19 MB) can be used by anyone who is leading the quality improvement process in your DHB.

Practitioner education support

LabPlus offers practitioner education support, including personalisation of the NSU presentation to your DHB. Register your interest with Joan Carll, Newborn Screening Educator at LabPLUS, on

NSU plans for 2018

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

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

Page last updated: 10 June 2018