Newborn hearing screening programme celebrates 10 years

Monday, December 14, 2020 - 20:23

Newborn baby having her hearing tested as part of the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme (UNHSEIP)
Newborn baby having her hearing tested

The Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme (UNHSEIP) recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary. The programme was announced by government in 2006, implementation began in 2007, and full national rollout was completed in August 2010. Around 95 percent of families now have newborn hearing screening testing for their babies.

Jasmine Plimmer, Manager Antenatal and Newborn Screening says it’s a milestone truly worth celebrating, as the programme has changed the lives of many children and their families and whānau. An official event to commemorate 10 years of newborn hearing screening was postponed as a result of COVID-19 however the National Screening Unit (NSU) is exploring opportunities to celebrate this achievement in 2021.

Each year, it’s estimated that between 135 and 170 babies are born in New Zealand with mild to profound permanent congenital hearing loss. Identifying hearing loss early means children can get the interventions they need as soon as possible, to help their language, learning and social development.

Data reported in the Deafness Notification Database indicates that since the start of the programme, there has been a significant shift in the age at which a hearing loss is identified, with more babies having their hearing loss identified before they are one year of age. In 2010, the average age hearing loss was identified was 14 months; compared with at five months in 2018.”

Dr Jane O’Hallahan, Clinical Director, NSU says “The fact that newborn hearing screeners are now the first group to suspect a hearing loss shows the success of a national organised screening programme in identifying hearing loss in babies.”

The Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education jointly oversee the delivery of the UNHSEIP. DHBs are the main providers of newborn hearing screening and follow-up audiology services. The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education provide funding to support early intervention services for those babies who have a hearing loss identified through the programme.

More information about the programme is available on the National Screening Unit website.

Page last updated: 14 December 2020