Newborn Hearing Screening reaches 200,000 landmark

14 September 2015

Alan Campbell, Head of Screening Services, Northgate Public Service 

We’ve reached a landmark in our HSE Universal Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (UNHSP) – 200,000 infants in Ireland have had their hearing tested, and we’re up to screening 70,000 newborns every year.

It’s great to reach that figure, particularly in a programme that is doing such important work. The earlier a hearing loss can be picked up in a baby, the better outcome. It helps in terms of developing speech and language skills, as well as developing social and emotional interactions from an early age.

In 2011, we began delivering UNHSP for the Health Service Executive (HSE) in Ireland. It’s been a great success. As Ireland's Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said of the 'simple but effective screening procedure', “This is a great example of the benefits of a universal screening programme." The screening is now available in all maternity hospitals throughout Ireland free of charge.

Typically, the test is done on a newborn baby’s ears when it is settled or asleep at the mother’s bedside. It involves placing a small soft tipped earpiece in the outer part of the baby's ear which sends clicking sounds down to the ear. It doesn’t hurt the baby and the results are available immediately.

Thanks to the screening programme we can identify hearing impairment much earlier and help improve the outcomes for those with moderate or severe hearing loss.  

A few facts about the screening:

  • It’s universal – free to everyone
  • 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 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.

It’s life changing work, and we’re proud to play our part in its delivery. So far, over 370 babies have been diagnosed with a Permanent Childhood Hearing Impairment. All of them now have a better chance in life thanks to the programme.