First online hui for newborn hearing screeners a resounding success
Over 120 screeners, coordinators and audiologists joined members of the Ministry of Health’s National Screening Unit (NSU) for the first ever online national hui in May, with DHB screening teams gathering locally but participating together as a national workforce online.
The Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme (UNHSEIP) identifies newborn babies with moderate to severe hearing loss early so they can get the help they need as soon as possible to enable their language, learning and social development.
Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall, Associate Minister of Health, spoke at the opening of the one-day hui and highlighted that an estimated 135 to 170 newborn babies are identified with mild to profound congenital hearing loss each year - the earlier we can intervene the better the outcome. In 2010 just 24 babies under the age of one were diagnosed as deaf or hard of hearing. Fast forward to 2019 and that number is 107, with 97 of those identified as a direct result of newborn hearing screening. Minister Verrall also thanked newborn hearing screeners past and present for their care and delivery of the newborn hearing screening programme. Acknowledgment was also given to the screener workforce for their commitment and continuation of the service during COVID-19.
The hui focused on the themes of equity, improvement and innovation in newborn hearing screening and included interactive talks from New Zealand and Australian experts. There were also the shared experiences of parents and children with a hearing loss who had been through the hearing screening pathway, and a wellbeing session designed specifically for screeners. As the hui was held during New Zealand Sign Language week there was a sign language education session which included some concepts in te reo Māori sign language.
The hui doubled as a celebration as the national programme turned 10 during 2020 but events were unable to be held due to COVID-19. Newborn hearing screening was first initiated by former Waikato DHB audiologist Michele Pokorny and Funding and Relationship Manager Ruth Rhodes who joined for part of the day. Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Dr Pat Tuohy, both with a history in the programme, acknowledged the valuable contribution the programme has made to the lives of many tamariki and their whānau.
“The organising team worked really hard to pull this national event together,” said Stephanie Chapman, Acting Group Manager of the NSU. “We knew we needed to find a way to bring everyone together that would not be disrupted by COVID-19 so we could acknowledge the high-quality, important work our newborn hearing screening workforce do. Delivering the hui online allowed us to do that. The event was accessible for all screeners, and in fact meant we could easily bring in speakers from across NZ and Australia. I’m thrilled to say that the event exceeded our expectations and we received positive feedback from attendees.”