Population screening programmes – 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.

Screening is the process of identifying individuals who appear healthy but may be at increased risk of a disease or condition.

The process is not perfect and in every screen there are a number of false positives and false negatives.

Evidence and recommendations

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) assesses evidence and makes recommendations to the 4 UK governments about population screening programmes.

The NHS newborn hearing screening programme (NHSP) aims to identify moderate, severe and profound deafness and hearing impairment in newborn babies. The programme offers all parents in England the opportunity to have their baby’s hearing tested shortly after birth.

Hearing impairment

Early identification of hearing impairment gives children a better chance of developing speech and language skills, and of making the most of social and emotional interaction from an early age.

Screening tests

There are clear care pathways for the screening and referral process for NHSP.

The parents of all babies born or resident in England should be offered hearing screening for their baby within 4 to 5 weeks of birth.

Babies that miss screening should receive it as soon as possible, but not after 3 months of age.

Some babies are not eligible for screening; this may be because the babies have an already-known risk of hearing impairment or deafness, from another condition. Healthcare staff can refer these babies for full audiological assessment without requiring a routine hearing screen.

The programme offers 2 types of test:

  • automated otoacoustic emission (AOAE): usually the default test for well babies.

  • automated auditory brainstem response (AABR): test performed on both ears when there was no clear AOAE response.

Local screening programmes should use approved equipment only.

There are separate protocols for well babies, and for those who have spent over 48 hours in SCBU or NICU.

Providing prompt care

The earlier a baby is identified as having hearing impairment or deafness, the better the outcomes for the family. The programme aims to screen babies within 5 weeks of birth. This test can take place in hospital, outpatient clinic, or at home by a health visitor.

Training

Healthcare professional and programme staff can use the NHSP learning module to update their knowledge on the NHSP screening process.

The interactive learning on screening available from Health Knowledge is helpful for new and non clinical staff or those returning after a long period absent.

All screeners are required to complete an OSCE (objective structured clinical examination) to ensure that they are competent and able to independently screen babies. New staff should refer to their team manager for guidance.

Commissioning

The service specification, and supporting documents ensure a hearing screening programme is set up correctly and is meeting the standards set by the national screening team.

Data

All hearing screening providers must meet and report on key performance indicators, or KPIs, set and reviewed by the national screening team.

The screening programme receives queries from parents regarding their baby’s data, and how it is stored on our IT systems (eSP).

All requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998 are met during the storage and use of the data. No information is published in a form that could identify parent or baby.

All staff that work in, or with, the NHS are required as a matter of law to keep information about parent and baby confidential.

The full eSP reference guide is available to NHSP professionals on the extranet.

The guidelines on handling patient information explain how to use and safeguard personal data in screening.

Contact the screening programme

For details of regional contacts please use the contacts database on the extranet.

For general information please use the helpdesk.

NHS population screening helpdesk

Public Health England Zone B
Floor 2 Skipton House
80 London Road


London
SE1 6LH

The helpdesk and national programmes do not have access to screening results.

Parents: contact your midwife or health visitor for information on screening results.

Health professionals: contact the local screening team, screening laboratory or local child health records department.