Newborn hearing screening teams praised for commitment during COVID
The commitment and innovation demonstrated by DHB new-born hearing screening teams during the COVID-19 response has been praised by National Screening Unit staff.
“I was truly impressed by the way the screening teams responded and stepped up to the challenges created by the COVID situation,” explains Dr Samantha Everitt, Principal Advisor, National Screening Unit. “Their determination to continue to provide newborn hearing screening saw innovative solutions being introduced quickly and effectively, many of which will have a lasting effect on how we deliver our programme in the future.”
New-born hearing screening was provided as an essential service during Alert Level 4, but with appointments only offered for babies who were born at hospital and prior to being released home. No outpatient or audiology appointments were offered to minimise the risk of infection being spread. Under Alert Level 3, screening outpatient appointments could resume but with safeguards in place for staff and families. At Level 3 many DHB teams worked to quickly create localised strategies to help support as many parents as possible to attend outpatient appointments safely, and to catch up on those babies who had missed their first screens or follow up appointments.
DHBs finding local solutions
One of these was Northland DHB’s new-born hearing screening team which took new-born hearing screening services out to their communities to support participation. With the usual outpatient clinic facilities being unavailable for use during COVID-19, the team deployed two mobile ear clinic trucks to complete outpatient appointments instead. The team identified 11 different community locations for the trucks that would help to minimise travel distance for affected families.
The team also utilised the skills of the mobile ear clinic nurses to complete pre-screening for COVID-19 and support families while they waited for their appointments, allowing the new-born hearing screeners to focus on completing screening. This innovative approach proved popular with affected families and led to a high uptake of mobile screening appointments for those babies who had missed screening during Level 4.
Whanganui DHB have also seen rates of attendance for new-born hearing screening improve due to interventions they introduced during Alert levels 3 and 2. The New-born Hearing Screening Coordinator took to the phone during this time to liaise directly with parents to complete COVID-19 pre-screening and identify suitable appointment times. This enhanced communication, along with running extra outpatient clinics, enabled greater flexibility for families when arranging appointments. This resulted in more families attending the scheduled appointments than prior to the COVID outbreak, so a truly positive result for babies and staff.
Holding catch up clinics, rostering on extra staff and arranging extended outpatient clinic hours have allowed other DHBs across the country to quickly catch up on seeing babies who had not completed screening.
“We want to acknowledge that the DHB’s new-born hearing screening teams have done an amazing job adapting so effectively to the challenges created by the COVID response. We will also be looking to share the learnings from the different approaches so that we can be sure to help as many families as possible to participate in this important screening programme in the future” said Dr Jane O’Hallahan, Clinical Director of the National Screening Unit.