Failings of newborn hearing screening programme

Earlier in the week, quality assurance reports were published that revealed that not all is well with the newborn hearing screening programme in England. NDCS campaigned heavily for the introduction of the programme, whereby every baby is tested for hearing loss shortly after birth, so we were pretty pleased when it was finally rolled out in 2006.

So the reports make for depressing reading, suggesting some serious localised problems in how the programme is being delivered. The worse affected area is London where estimates suggest that around 68 deaf babies – half of all cases of newborn deafness – are not being screened and are falling through the net. Given the importance of early diagnosis for making sure deaf children get the best possible start in life, these figures are very worrying. For one deaf child to be missed is bad. 68 is something else.

So what’s going wrong? NDCS is putting it down to:

* A lack of strong local leadership
* A failure to consistently follow up babies who leave hospital without being screened
* A failure by screening programmes to offer seven-day-a-week coverage to hospitals (sometimes screening cover is unavailable at weekends)
* Recruitment delays and poor retention of screening staff.

And what are we going to do about it? Well, we’ve launched a new campaign to tackle this. Our main target will be the primary care trusts (PCTs) who deliver the programme, getting them to come up with a plan of action. We also want the Strategic Health Authority for London to bang some heads together and ensure all PCTs in London work together and raise their game.

We’ve issued a press release to local media in London to raise awareness of the issue and we’ll be engaging with a range of London MPs to ask them to lobby their own PCTs. We’ve already managed to get some coverage from BBC news online.

We’ll keep you informed of progress. In the meantime, if you’ve got any thoughts on the campaign and the problems, let us know.


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