Canterbury babies to be retested

More than 500 Canterbury babies have been recalled for hearing tests after problems emerged with a hearing screening programme for newborns.

Eight hearing test screeners have lost their jobs after irregularities in the programme were found at six district health boards - Canterbury, Auckland, Lakes, Bay of Plenty, Waitemata and Hutt Valley.

Letters have been sent to parents of 2077 infants, including 517 in Canterbury

A 10-month-old boy who had to be retested was found to have congenital hearing loss and was now receiving treatment.

A Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) spokeswoman said the boy was not from Canterbury and no Canterbury infants recalled for testing had been found to have any problems because of the delay.

The newborn hearing screening programme tests about 55,000 newborns each year and expects to find one in 1000 with congenital hearing loss.

CDHB chief executive David Meates said the fact the same problem was picked up in six different areas suggested there was "something else going on".

"We're not quite sure what that is. It's so easy to jump to [the conclusion that] an individual is the problem, when we may have to look at what else is going on."

CDHB chief medical officer of health Nigel Millar said it was positive that the problem had been picked up though.

"It's a bad thing that it's happened, but it's good that we know about it.

National Screening Unit group manager Jane McEntee said the national problem had been picked up in Auckland.

"A baby was being screened and the parents said the baby had already had their hearing tested, but there were no results recorded in the system," she said.

"That prompted staff to look into the issue and these irregularities were subsequently found."

Eight hearing screeners had lost their jobs, but the 10-month-old was the only baby who had a delayed diagnosis as a result of the "irregularities", she said. 

Screening scheme

After a baby is born, a specialist hearing screener will offer to test the baby's hearing.

It is up to parents to decide whether to agree to the free test, which is normally done before a baby leaves hospital or at a clinic appointment.

There are two types of tests, both painless.

One involves placing a small soft-tipped earpiece in the ear, which makes a soft clicking sound and measures how the ear responds.

The other involves placing ear cups over their ears, which play a soft clicking sound. Sensors on the baby's head measure how the ear and brain respond to the sounds. If a baby passes the test, the parents are given a results sheet.

If one or both ears do not show a clear result, the child is referred to a hearing specialist.

The Press