Newborn Hearing Screening Programme Update
In 2012 all of New Zealand’s District Health Boards (DHBs) reviewed their newborn hearing screening results. This review found discrepancies in some of the data from these screenings and a further investigation by the Ministry of Health found that these discrepancies were due to screeners not following correct screening protocols in 10 DHBs – Waitemata, Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Hutt Valley, Hawkes Bay, Canterbury, Counties Manukau and Taranaki.
To date, five children have been diagnosed with some level of hearing loss. Two children were found to have mild hearing loss, one with moderate to severe hearing loss and two with severe to profound hearing loss from DHBs including Hawkes Bay, Lakes, Auckland, Hutt and Counties Manukau.
The top priority for both the Ministry and the DHBs has been to ensure the families of the babies involved were contacted and offered an opportunity for rescreening. Families have been contacted three times using different communication methods such as phone, letter and text. Copies of letters have also been sent to the primary care provider.
We strongly encourage any parent or guardian who has concerns about their child's hearing to contact their family doctor or Well Child provider.
Approximately 60,000 newborn babies are screened through the hearing programme each year from around 64,000 births a year. The number of babies who have been offered rescreening is about 3 per cent of all babies screened since the programme started in 2007.
A quality improvement review of the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme (UNHSEIP) (link to come) was released by the Ministry in January 2013. The review identified 21 recommendations which are aimed at strengthening both DHB service provision and the leadership and monitoring of the programme by the NSU.
The National Screening Unit (NSU) in the Ministry of Health and District Health Boards (DHBs) have been working together to implement recommendations from the review.
As expected with a recently established programme, areas for improvement will be identified and implemented as the programme progresses. Significant progress has already been made in a number of areas to strengthen the programme.
Many of the DHB newborn hearing screening services have also been audited, a process which began in May 2012. The primary aim of the audits is to support DHBs to identify areas for quality improvement. The audits also enable the NSU to gain an understanding of the progress of implementation of the programme and where DHBs may need additional support.
DHBs have generally reported that the audits have provided a useful benchmark and a clear direction for quality improvements to their UNHSEIP services.
The NSU team will continue to work closely with DHBs to implement the recommendations of the review and to ensure the quality of the programme. We are confident that current screeners working in the programme are following the correct screening protocol and delivering a quality service. The review provided us with an opportunity to work alongside DHBs to strengthen the newborn hearing screening programme.
Jane McEntee, Group Manager, National Screening Unit, National Health Board in the Ministry of Health