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Newborn screening recalls

March 2014

Last year, the national newborn hearing screening programme reviewed 14 screeners across 10 district health boards who were not screening according to the national protocol. From July 2012, a total of 5023 babies were incorrectly screened and 2243 (out of 6923 recalled) were recalled for further testing. Of these, two received cochlear implants, three were diagnosed with moderate hearing loss and three with mild hearing loss.

The Ministry of Health has released a report and an independent Australian team is reviewing the screening regime. DHBs and the Ministry of Health are working together to strengthen the programme to ensure it is as safe as possible.

Meanwhile, we are seeking further information on the possibly lower re-testing rates for babies in South Auckland ­­– in case fewer of these infants are being routinely re-tested for a potential hearing problem.

The Foundation has 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.

We also believe there is an urgent need for the Ministry of Health to require the National Screening Unit to introduce targeted follow-up for each baby who 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 screening progamme and urge the Ministry of Health to consider the risk this presents.

For more on this issue visit the National Screening Unit website.