Report into newborn hearing screening released

Image of baby having their hearing screened.
Approximately 60,000 newborn babies are screened each year through the hearing programme.
Some newborn hearing screeners in six district health boards (DHBs) have been identified as not screening babies properly over a three-year period, which means hearing loss among some babies may not have been detected.

A report, Quality improvement review of a screening event in the Universal Newborn Hearing Screening and Early Intervention Programme, was published by the Ministry of Health at the end of January.

Since 2010 all 20 DHBs have provided hearing screening of newborns.  The screening programme aims to identify babies with moderate to severe permanent congenital hearing loss so they and their families can be offered timely intervention to help with speech and language development.

Eight screeners were found to not be following standard screening protocols. As a result, the babies they screened between March 2009 and November 2012 appeared to have successfully completed hearing tests when in fact they had not.

National Health Board Director National Services Purchasing, Jill Lane, says the 21 recommendations in the report are aimed at strengthening both DHB service provision and the leadership and monitoring of the programme by the NSU.

“We’re confident that newborn hearing screening is effective when the correct protocol is followed. The investigation has given us an opportunity to strengthen the programme so we’ll be working with DHBs to implement the recommendations,” Jill Lane says.

Approximately 60,000 newborn babies are screened each year through the hearing programme. The number of babies who were affected by this incident was about 1.4 per cent of all babies screened.

The families of the affected babies continue to be offered rescreening for their child. Waikato and Hawke’s Bay DHBs are concluding their investigations and families of any babies affected will also be offered an opportunity for rescreening.

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Page last updated: 27 February 2013