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Newborn Hearing Screening Programme

The National Foundation for the Deaf and the affiliated group Project HIEDI are both strong supporters and advocates for the NZ Newborn Hearing Screening Programme.

The Foundation and Project HIEDI are alarmed and distressed at the reported need for 2000 babies to be recalled for hearing screening tests after the Ministry of Health discovered “irregularities” in its national Newborn Hearing Screening Programme.

We have previously raised issues about the inadequate monitoring and data collection and we remain concerned at the insufficient resourcing of this vital programme. We consider screening failure to be an inevitable consequence of such constant under funding.

It is indeed fortunate that the vigilance of programme staff in one of the DHBs revealed the problem and the subsequent review done by the Ministry of Health has discovered these discrepancies nationally and is now putting in place measures to reduce the risk of this happening in the future.

Screening of our new-born babies for hearing loss is a vital way to ensure that all of the support that may be required by a baby who is deaf or hearing impaired, and their family, is provided at the earliest opportunity, offering the best social, educational and health outcomes for the babies.

Prior to the introduction of the national Newborn Hearing Screening Programme it would take up to 4 years for a child to be identified as having a significant hearing impairment. This led to significant delays in the development of their language and communication skills. The successful introduction of this programme is reducing that age to 1-3 months and we support the continuance of it nationally.

We also believe there is an urgent need for the Ministry of Health to require the National Screening Unit to introduce individual targeted follow up for each baby that has invalid test results rather than simply sending a letter of recall. It is well known that the recall letter method has a low success rate.

We also remain concerned at the lack of a co-ordinated data collection process for the New-born Hearing Screening Progamme and urge the Ministry of Health to consider the risk this presents.

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