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Starship Machine Welcome Addition to Programme

Media Release

February 24, 2006

Starship Machine Welcome Addition to Newborn Screening Programme

The announcement by the Starship Foundation of the arrival of a Tandem Mass Spectrometer (TMS) machine at Starship Children's Hospital is an important further step in the screening programme that tests the country's more than 55,000 newborns each year for rare metabolic conditions.

The Ministry of Health's Chief Advisor for Child and Youth Health Services, Dr Pat Tuohy, describes the arrival of the machine as an important development in a programme that has operated successfully in New Zealand for close to four decades.

"The arrival of the TMS machine is a further quality improvement to a programme that will be familiar to most parents of children born in New Zealand over the last 40 years. We are fortunate with the already high standard of newborn metabolic screening in New Zealand and the TMS machine will only add to the strength of the programme," he says.

Collection of blood spots from newborns was introduced in the 1960s for the purpose of identifying specific metabolic conditions. The blood from a heel prick of a newborn is placed on a card and sent to the National Testing Centre, a unit within LabPlus at the Auckland District Health Board for analysis.

The Testing Centre currently analyses the blood for seven metabolic conditions, as part of the Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme. The TMS machine will enable the tests to be done more efficiently, more quickly and with a greater degree of accuracy.

The machine will also improve the metabolic service which operates outside the screening programme, for example, where a child is diagnosed clinically and then referred for testing.

However, the TMS machine also provides the potential for newborns to be tested for an expanded range of conditions.

The National Screening Unit, which has overall responsibility for the Programme, has a national advisory group to provide advice on options for expanded screening. The group includes representatives from genetics, paediatrics, health law, the Office of the Children's Commissioner, midwives, Maori, consumers, laboratory science and the New Zealand organisation for rare disorders.

The advisory group is working through the policy options to assist the National Screening Unit in determining which of the additional tests that are made possible by the new machine will be incorporated into the national programme.

The group is considering the recent recommendation of AHMAC (the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Committee) which recommends the Australian programme be expanded to test for 21 conditions. A decision on which of the additional tests will be incorporated into the Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme is expected this year.


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