Newborn screening

During the first few weeks after your baby is born, they will be offered a blood spot screening test and hearing screening test. These tests form the Northern Ireland Newborn Screening Programmes.

Newborn hearing screening

About 1 in every 1,000 babies is born with a significant hearing loss. The current screening programme, which has been in place since October 2005, is offered to all newborn infants.

The aim of the screening programme is to reduce the effects of permanent childhood hearing impairment (PCHI) on the development of speech and communication skills, by achieving early diagnosis and treatment.

A baby having its hearing tested as part of newborn screening

The screening test, which is usually carried out before leaving hospital, involves placing a small soft-tipped earpiece in the outer part of a baby’s ear to send clicking sounds to the inner ear.

Using a computer, the person carrying out the test can see how the baby’s inner ear responds to sound.

If normal responses are not found, the infant is referred to audiology services for diagnostic tests and further follow up.

Further information is available in the programme leaflets:

Newborn blood spot screening

In the first week after birth, all babies in Northern Ireland are offered screening for a range of inherited conditions including:

  • phenylketonuria (PKU)
  • congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)
  • cystic fibrosis (CF)
  • medium chain acyl coA dehydrogenase deficiency (MCADD)
  • sickle cell disorders (SCD)

baby's foot being held during newborn blood sport screening

This is often called the ‘heel prick’ test. Most babies screened will not have any of these conditions but, for the small number who do, the benefits of screening are significant.

The programme makes a major contribution to the prevention of disability and death in our community, through early diagnosis and effective interventions. It is important to let your health professional know if you, or your partner, has a family history of the conditions screened for.

Newborn blood spot screening is a complex programme, involving a wide range of services, from highly specialised laboratories through to individual staff in the community and in hospitals, working closely together.

The Public Health Agency and partner organisations are responsible for ensuring that the population has access to safe, effective, high quality and equitable screening programmes. As part of this function for newborn blood spot screening, the Northern Ireland programme participates in a national (UK) system of quality assurance and performance management.

Further information is available in the programme leaflet:

Newborn hearing and blood spot screening are recommended. It is also important that if, at any stage, you have any concerns about your child’s health or their hearing, you should  discuss these with a health professional such as your health visitor or general practitioner.

Physical examination

All babies will be offered a routine physical examination to check their hips, heart, eyes and testes (for boys) within the first few days of life and again between six to eight weeks of age.

These examinations aim to find any health conditions or abnormalities so that any tests or treatment required can be offered to your baby as soon as possible.

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