Guidance

Newborn hearing screening: programme overview

This overview of the NHS newborn hearing screening programme (NHSP) explains how a baby’s hearing is tested, and the equipment used for the tests.

Information for the public about newborn hearing screening screening is available on the NHS website.

It is the choice of an individual, with parental responsibility for the baby, whether or not their baby has screening.

Public Health England (PHE) is committed to reducing inequalities and variation in screening participation to help make sure everyone has fair and equal access to screening services.

PHE provides information about data use and patient confidentiality in population screening programmes. Operational guidance is available to support providers of newborn hearing screening services in England.

Target population

Newborn hearing screening is offered to all babies in England, ideally within the first 4 to 5 weeks after they are born.

The test can be done for babies up to the age of 3 months.

Condition screened for

Newborn hearing screening aims to identify permanent moderate, severe and profound deafness and hearing impairment in newborn babies.

Finding out early can give these babies a better chance of developing language, speech, and communication skills.

Newborn hearing screening tests

Screening tests for you and your baby explains the newborn hearing screening tests.

Newborn hearing screening always involves the automated otoacoustic emission (AOAE) test. Some babies also need a second test, the automated auditory brainstem response (AABR) test.

The Newborn hearing screening: care pathways describe when those tests are performed for well babies and babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).

The AOAE test involves placing a small soft-tipped earpiece in the baby’s ear, after which gentle clicking sounds are played. The ear response is picked up by the screening equipment. The AOAE test takes just a few minutes.

The AABR test involves placing 3 small sensors on the baby’s forehead, nape of neck and shoulder. Soft headphones are placed over the baby’s ears and gentle clicking sounds are played. The AABR test takes between 5 and 15 minutes.

If the screening test results do not show a clear response in one or both of the baby’s ears, a referral for audiological assessment is made within 4 weeks.

Evidence base

Newborn hearing screening is one of 11 NHS national population screening programmes available in England.

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) makes recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries on all aspects of population screening. It ensures that screening provides more benefit than harm, at a reasonable cost to the NHS.

Recommendations are based on internationally recognised criteria and a rigorous evidence review process.

Read the UK NSC recommendation on newborn hearing screening.

PHE collects routine data to monitor the uptake of newborn hearing screening.

Requests for screening data and research

PHE has terms of reference for NHS population screening programme research advisory committees.

Commissioning

All newborn hearing screening commissioners must follow the service specification and use the supporting documents to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up and meets the required standards.

Quality assurance

The role of the screening quality assurance service (SQAS) is to:

The programme specific operating model for quality assurance of the antenatal and newborn screening programmes should be read in conjunction with the operating model for PHE screening quality assurance service and the relevant programme standards.

Workforce: education and training

Education and training resources are available for healthcare professionals working in newborn hearing screening.

There are also more general resources about population screening to support screening professionals in their initial training and continuing professional development (CPD).

Keep up to date

Visit the Public Health England (PHE) screening blog to keep up to date with what is new in the programme, including the latest guidance and good practice. You can register to receive blog updates direct to your inbox.

Follow PHE Screening on Twitter.

Contact the screening team

Contact the PHE Screening helpdesk with any queries about this publication, making sure you include its full title.

Population screening helpdesk

PHE Screening
Floor 5
Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road
London
SE1 8UG

Email PHE.screeninghelpdesk@nhs.net

Helpdesk phone number 020 3682 0890

The helpdesk is not for media enquiries and does not have access to screening results. For queries about results, contact your GP or local screening service. Order screening leaflets at www.gov.uk/phe/screening-leaflets.

Published 1 April 2013
Last updated 2 November 2016 + show all updates
  1. Added link to NHSP operational guidance.

  2. Link to NHSP video on NHS Choices.

  3. First published.