Cork newborns to be given hearing tests in pilot programme


NEWBORN BABIES in Cork will be screened for hearing under a pilot programme which began yesterday at Cork University Maternity Hospital.

It has been chosen as the first facility in the country to implement the screening programme, which aims to identify hearing impairment as early as possible.

The programme will be extended to Kerry, Waterford and Wexford in September and to South Tipperary and Kilkenny towards the end of the year, before being rolled out nationwide.

Seven full-time trained staff have been employed to carry out the tests. The scheme also covers babies born through the HSE’s home-birth scheme.

The non-invasive test can be carried out whether a baby is sleeping or awake. Any baby who does not have a clear response will be sent for a full hearing assessment to an audiology clinic at the hospital.

Peter O’Sullivan, consultant ear, nose and throat specialist at the hospital, said the earlier a hearing loss could be picked up in a baby the better the outcome.

Prior to the introduction of the screening programme, hearing tests were carried out by public health nurses on babies aged eight months. Mr O’Sullivan said that as speech developed over the first year, it was vital that any hearing problems were picked up early.

“It can be tricky to pick up on hearing loss without screening, which is why it’s often not picked up until the child is one or two. Usually if a parent feels there is a problem, there is a problem and if a child needs serious intervention, this should ideally take place within the first six to 12 months,” he said.

Mr O’Sullivan wanted to reassure parents that if a baby failed the hearing test, this did not necessarily mean there was a problem. Thirty babies per 1,000 would need to be referred for assessment but only one or two of these would have a hearing problem, he said.