Irregularities in New Zealand newborn hearing screening program


© Paul Ripke

An unknown number of babies with hearing impairment may reportedly have been missed due to problems with New Zealand’s hearing screening program, according to the New Zealand Herald. New Zealand’s newborn hearing screening program was launched nationwide in 2010 with the objective of testing hearing in 60,000 newborns each year. The New Zealand Herald reports that there have been problems with the system and an unknown number of newborns with hearing loss may not have been identified.

The real number of missed cases in not known because only about 30% of newborns recalled were rescreened. Of the nearly 7,000 babies recalled to hospital, only 2,234 were rescreened. So far, nine babies born with hearing impairment have been identified and six of them have moderate to profound hearing loss. The problem is that these newborns did not get the crucial early intervention they needed for normal speech and language development.

Irregularities in the system were found when the Auckland District Health Board (DHB) identified low detection rates based on the numbers of babies being screened. Since then, investigations have shown that problems included 8 of 108 screeners either testing their own ears, the same ear twice, or only one of the baby’s ears. Anomalies have been found at six other DHBs. However, Waikato Health Board also found irregular results between 2008 and 2012 and rescreened 377 toddlers, but none of them had hearing loss.

Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said two new reports into newborn hearing screening should help to give parents confidence in the program.

Source: New Zealand Herald