Why newborn hearing screening is important
At least one in every 842 babies born in the UK will have a permanent childhood hearing impairment that can significantly affect their language and social development. This figure increases to about 3 in every 1000 babies who have spent more than 48 hours in intensive care. The majority of these babies are born into families with no experience or history of hearing loss.
The NHS Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHSP) was commissioned by the Department of Health following a report in 1997 which showed that the previous way in which early hearing impairment was detected, the Health Visitor distraction test carried out at around 8 months of age, missed a large number of children and that almost a quarter of children born deaf in the UK were not identified until they were three and a half or older. Further information can be found in the HTA full report.
NHSP aims to identify moderate, severe and profound deafness and hearing impairment in newborn babies. The programme automatically offers all parents in England the opportunity to have their baby's hearing tested shortly after birth. Early identification, via the programme, gives babies a better 'life chance' of developing speech and language skills, and of making the most of social and emotional interaction from an early age.
The new hearing screening tests use sophisticated technology, can be carried out almost immediately after birth, are entirely safe and comfortable for babies and are much better at identifying the possibility of hearing impairment.
Information about the tests, and how they work, can be found in the booklet given to parents antenatally and at birth.
After the hearing screen is carried out, parents are given checklists (Reaction to Sounds, and Making Sounds) giving details of the sounds that babies should make and react to as they get older. If they have any concerns about their child's hearing they can then talk to a health professional.
Hearing screening is one of a number of screening tests carried out on newborn babies. The others are the newborn blood spot and the newborn physical examination. More details about these screening programmes can be found on the www.screening.nhs.uk website.