James Michael Murphy from Louisburgh, Co. Mayo was the 100,000th baby in Ireland to be screened for hearing impairments, under the HSE’s universal newborn hearing screening programme, provided by Northgate Public Services, which is available at hospitals throughout Ireland.
Photo: Keith Heneghan / Phocus
James, who was born at Mayo General Hospital in February, and mum, Elizabeth, were delighted to have clear responses from the hearing screen delivered by a screener, Sinead Courtney.
Approximately 75,000 babies a year in Ireland are now undergoing hearing screening at all maternity units.
• In Ireland, one to two babies in every 1,000 are born with a hearing loss in one or both ears.
• On average 6,000 babies are screened each month; of these 180 babies (3%) are referred to the HSE Audiology Service for further hearing diagnostic assessments; and approximately 9 babies are identified with a permanent childhood hearing loss.
• Some 90% of these babies are born into families with no experience, or history, of childhood deafness.
The HSE contracted the services of Northgate Public Services to provide universal newborn hearing screening in all maternity hospitals in Ireland.
Universal newborn hearing screening identifies hearing impairment much earlier and, coupled with timely audiology services, improves the life experience of identified children.
Dr. Gary Norman, National Clinical Lead for Audiology explained, “The screening programme aims to identify hearing impairments as soon as possible after birth. The earlier a hearing loss can be picked up in a baby, the better outcome that baby will have in terms of developing speech and language skills, as well as developing social and emotional interactions from an early age.”
The Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme
The national rollout of the universal newborn hearing screening, to all maternity hospitals across Ireland, offers all parents the opportunity to have their baby’s hearing tested shortly after birth. The test is provided free of charge, and is normally carried out at the mother’s bedside and doesn’t hurt the baby.
The programme aims to identify moderate, severe and profound hearing impairment in newborn babies and is making a life-changing difference to babies born each year with a moderate or greater hearing impairment.
Why should newborn babies have their hearing tested?
The first six months of a baby’s life is a critical period for learning to hear and speak. Communication and behavioural skills are influenced by a baby’s ability to hear. When hearing loss goes undetected or is detected later rather than sooner, this can lead to delayed speech and language development. This delay can also affect a child’s social interactions, emotional development, and educational performance.
The early detection of hearing loss and the initiation of medical and educational interventions has been demonstrated to significantly improve long-term outcomes for children with hearing loss and their families. 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. While the detection of early hearing is vitally important to a child’s development, it also means that support and information can be provided to parents at an early stage.
Permanent Childhood Hearing Impairment (PCHI)
Universal newborn hearing screening seeks to identify all babies born with a congenital, unilateral or bilateral, moderate to profound Permanent Childhood Hearing Impairment (PCHI) before the baby is three months old. Approximately 3 percent of babies are referred from the screening programme to the HSE Audiology Service for more intensive assessment and are normally seen within four weeks of being referred.
If a baby is identified as having a PCHI then the baby is enrolled in an early intervention programme, which may include the fitting of hearing aids, before the baby is six months old.
Early identification is the springboard for the processes of diagnostic and habilitative audiological, medical and educational intervention.
Comprehensive intervention and management programmes to meet the child’s needs along with support to the family are seen as natural extensions of a universal screening programme.
The HSE procured the services of Northgate Public Services to deliver the Newborn Screening Programme, including the provision of the resources and technology until the end of October 2016. The HSE Audiology Service provides the diagnostic assessment for those babies referred from the screen and hearing aid management for those identified with a PCHI.
Resources such as an information guide, frequently asked questions and answers and booklets in English and Irish are available on www.newbornscreening.ie