COVID-19: Information for pregnancy and newborn screening participants

Antenatal screening for Down syndrome and other conditions

Antenatal care for pregnant women continues to be provided across all Government alert levels, including antenatal screening for Down syndrome and other conditions.

All women, including those who identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case should continue to receive maternity care. However, there are some changes to the services provided to women for antenatal screening to help limit the spread of COVID-19 in community settings and protect pregnant women and health staff. The key changes include:

  • Women who identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case. Access to first trimester anatomy scans for women who identify as a probable / possible COVID-19 case may be limited as some practices are not equipped to manage these cases. Some radiology facilities do have correct PPE measures in place for staff and are able to provide essential maternity ultrasound services. We encourage women or their LMC to contact practices to check whether anatomy scanning services are available and any precautions required.

  • No support person except in high risk situations. All women are to arrive and be scanned alone, except if they need a translator or their appointment is deemed to be high risk, for example where there is suspected loss of pregnancy. Then a support person is allowed. However, all other family or support persons should not enter the practice.

  • Shorter scan times. Shorter scan times may be offered to allow more spacing between appointments. While essential scanning procedures will continue, social scanning, such as 3D imaging, will not be available in these shorter appointments.

  • Scans can be stopped. Providers have the right to stop a scan if they are uncomfortable with a patient’s behaviour or undeclared symptoms, such as coughing.

  • Some radiology practices are closed. Due to the restrictions on non-essential healthcare, many radiology practices have closed some offices or limited their opening hours. Please check their website or phone messages to confirm opening before referring women for scans.

  • Second trimester screening. Remember MSS2 is available to complete screening from 14 weeks if the nuchal scan is unavailable locally or the scan is unable to be completed.

  • All reporting remains unchanged.

    Health providers should review the full guidance for ultrasound service providers available on the Ministry of Health COVID-19 webpage here. This document should be read in conjunction with information available at


Newborn metabolic screening

As an essential service, newborn metabolic screening will continue to be provided for babies under all alert levels. This includes babies where they or a family member identify as a probable/possible COVID-19 case.

  • Collection of samples. Providers are to follow service guidelines for collection and use standard precautions during collection, and when handling the cards (PPE such as gloves, gown). Cards can be sent in the usual manner. If collecting from a baby or environment in which COVID-19 is suspected or confirmed, providers are to follow Ministry of Health guidelines for patient management.

  • Timing of sample collection. While the optimal time for collection of a blood sample for newborn metabolic screening is 48 to 72 hours, due to the national COVID-19 response, the laboratory will be accepting blood samples collected from babies as early as 24 hours post-birth. This change is designed to assist providers and midwives with patient accessibility issues during the COVID-19 response period.

  • Courier/mail deliveries as normal. Mail is an essential service and should not be disrupted during the COVID-19 response. Courier services are operating as normal, however please advise LabPlus if you are aware of any issues regarding collection or delivery of samples. Note that if a Post Shop is closed, providers can call the courier company for a pickup or to drop off samples at their local maternity facility.

  • All reporting remains unchanged.


Newborn hearing screening

Newborn hearing screening was provided by most DHBs during Alert Level 4, however with restrictions on outpatient appointments. It is expected that all DHBs will provide outpatients for screening at Alert Level 2, with older babies and those who have commenced but not completed screening being a priority.

  • Prioritising newborn hearing outpatient appointments. We advise that appointments are prioritised for babies who have commenced screening but require a further screening appointment and older babies who have not yet started screening.

  • Contacting parents of unscreened babies. All DHBs have systems in place for identifying babies who have not been offered newborn hearing screening. Parents/guardians are to be contacted by their DHB by phone or letter providing information about when they may expect an appointment and who to contact if they have any queries. Parents/guardians who have not been contacted by their DHB within two weeks of their baby’s birth can contact their DHB screening team here:

  • Diagnostic audiology appointments will recommence at Alert Level 3. To begin with, priority will be given to older babies requiring assessment and babies with conditions with a high risk of hearing loss.

  • Communication to parents awaiting audiology. Parents/guardians waiting on an audiology appointment for the baby should have been contacted by the audiology department to date. The parents/guardians of babies referred to audiology can contact their DHB screening team if they have any queries about their audiology appointment. Details are available here:

  • Attendance at outpatient appointments. It is important that parents are encouraged to attend the outpatient appointment during Alert Level 3. Without screening or audiology testing it is difficult to detect hearing loss in babies until their speech and language development becomes delayed. Parents or guardians can discuss with the screening team options for supporting their attendance at an outpatient screening or audiology appointment if they think they may have difficulties attending.

  • Advice for parents who are waiting for their diagnostic audiology appointment. The Well Child Tamariki Ora My Health Book includes suggestions that can promote good listening and communication development in babies. Providers can advise parents to refer to this section while they await their audiology appointment.

Page last updated: 14 May 2020