EVERY baby born at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) will be offered a hearing screening test before they are discharged.
CUMH was, from yesterday, the first hospital in Ireland to implement the national Newborn Hearing Screening Programme which follows a major nationwide review of audiology services.
The test is available free-of-charge for all babies. If staff are not happy with the baby’s response to the test, they will be sent for a full audiological assessment at an Audiology Clinic at CUH shortly after discharge.
The earlier a hearing loss can be picked up in a baby, the better the outcome for that baby, according to consultant ear nose and throat surgeon Mr Peter O’Sullivan.
“It is very important to screen all babies at an early stage. In Ireland, one to two babies in every 1,000 are born with a hearing loss in one or both ears. Most babies born with a hearing loss are born into families with no history of hearing loss,” he said.
CUMH consultant neonatologist Dr Brendan Paul Murphy said screening at birth gave “babies a better chance of developing speech and language skills and making the most of social and emotional interaction from an early age”.
“We now have a programme in place to deliver this to all our newborns. Babies who spend time in a special care baby unit have a higher incidence of hearing loss, these babies will be tested during their time in the unit,” he said.
The test will be carried out while the baby is settled or sleeping, usually at the mother’s bedside. The screener uses two non-invasive tests to screen the newborns’ hearing with neither test causing any discomfort to the baby.
The referral rates to the HSE Audiology Clinic will be low, estimated at about 2-4% of babies tested. A referral does not necessarily mean that a baby will have hearing loss, it could be due to other factors, including a temporary blockage in the ears since birth.
The commencement of the Newborn Hearing Screening programme is just one recommendation of the recently-published National Audiology Review Group and will go nationwide by the end of next year.
The report identified inconsistencies and shortcomings in audiology services around the country including poor access, a lack of information, inadequate staffing levels, poor infrastructure and unacceptable waiting times.
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