Up to 2000 babies have been recalled to hospital to have
their hearing checked after the Ministry of Health discovered
"irregularities" in its national newborn screening programme.
One of the babies recalled, a 10-month-old boy, was found to
have a congenital hearing defect.
Officials would not say what the irregularities were, but it
is believed the hearing of some newborn babies was not
The Herald understands some screeners from the six affected
district health boards were testing themselves instead of the
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said she was "very
concerned" when she was told in July of the situation.
Asked if any workers had been dismissed or stood down, she
said: "I am aware a number of screeners no longer work at the
Two boards told the Health Ministry five months ago they had
concerns about their newborn hearing screening programmes.
National Health Board national services purchasing director
Jill Lane said that as a result the Ministry initiated a
review of all DHB newborn screening activity.
Six boards - including Auckland, Waitemata, Bay of Plenty,
Lakes (Taupo), Hutt Valley and Canterbury - were found to
have irregular screening results, and two, Waikato and Hawkes
Bay, are still providing information.
It is not known how long the issues had been going on or how
old some of the babies are now.
Ms Lane said a report into the investigation was completed
this week, but its recommendations would not be made public
until it was sent to affected families early in the New Year.
Ms Lane did not know how many of the 2000 families sent
recall letters had responded, but said that of those that
had, the 10-month-old was the only delayed diagnosis.
Mrs Goodhew said while that family would be disappointed,
they were now getting the support they needed at birth.
"I understand there are no waiting lists for cochlear
implants. Children have priority so that child will have
cochlear implants if that's what he needs."
The programme is intended to check the hearing of the 60,000
babies born each year.
All babies are supposed to be screened within a month, to
complete an audiology assessment in three months and start
any required treatment by six months.
"We want to pick up any irregularities in a child's ability
to hear as early as possible," Mrs Goodhew said.
About 2000 babies a year need further hearing assessment, and
the programme expects to find one baby in 1000 with
congenital hearing loss.
Mrs Goodhew said she would not pre-empt the report by giving
"It's certainly not what you want. You want a standard of
screening and you want everyone to conform to that standard
and in this case it hasn't happened."
She said she had more confidence in the programme now a
thorough investigation had been made, and she was comfortable
with the "comprehensive recommendations".
The country had about 115 technically trained screeners.
- Natalie Akoorie, NZ Herald