Mums thank Newborn Hearing Screeners for helping children to hear

31 July 2014

Two grateful mums have thanked screeners from all over Ireland, who perform the free hearing screening tests on newborn babies at 19 maternity hospitals, at a special event in Dublin recently.

The mothers praised the benefits of the Health Services Executive (HSE)’s Universal Newborn Hearing Screening (UNHS) service and the role of the Northgate Screening Team, with one mother recounting how her young son’s life had been changed through the early diagnosis of childhood deafness and access to early intervention services.

The screeners (pictured) all attended a special reception in Dublin, hosted by Northgate Public Services, who provide UNHS in all maternity hospitals in Ireland from November 2013, on behalf of the Health Service Executive.

Mother of three, Lorraine Murphy (41) from Westmeath told how her daughter Anna, now 5,   was not diagnosed with a profound hearing loss in both ears until 17 months of age, as the UNHS did not exist when she was born. This led to a delay in providing her with a cochlear implant, required to give her access to sound.

Lorraine and other parents have set up a support group in Ireland, Our New Ears, for parents of deaf children with cochlear implants in Ireland, which currently has over 160 members.

“I wish that the newborn hearing screening had been up and running when Anna was born and I can see the benefits of such an early diagnosis in children’s development,” she said. “While parents don’t want to hear bad news about their new babies, if they are diagnosed early with a hearing problem, it is in fact good news as it gives parents a chance to open the right doors to communication and possibly technology straight away, allowing their child to progress in the normal way. Anna lived in a different world for the first 17 months until we discovered what was wrong. Now other parents need not go through all that – they have the newborn screening service.”

Lorraine was part of the recent Happy New Ear campaign seeking bilateral cochlear  implants for children in Ireland, in line with international best practice.  From  24 July this year, children in Ireland have the benefit of two implants per child, funded by the HSE.

Rachel Fellowes from Cork, whose son Benjamin, 2, had the benefit of being diagnosed at birth through the Newborn Screening Service, added: “This has been such an advantage for Ben. He can say 80 words now, which is similar to his brother Joel (3), at that age. I am so grateful to have had the chance to have him diagnosed early, so that he has not lost out on his learning and development.”

Northgate’s Executive Director Joe Bradley said: “I was delighted to have this opportunity to thank all the screeners for their stalwart work with so many babies and to meet some of the mums who have benefitted. This is an invaluable service which is helping the HSE with early detection and also bringing long-term benefits to children and their families in Ireland by providing this free, early detection service to newborns.

“With around 6,000 babies screened each month, we are identifying 180 on average who need referral to the HSE Audiology Service and many parents have expressed their gratitude that an early diagnosis has been available. We look forward to continuing to work with the HSE in developing this and other services for the citizens of Ireland.”

Dr. Gary Norman, National Clinical Lead for Audiology said: “It is wonderful to see the benefits of early diagnosis. It is clear that the earlier a hearing loss can be picked up in a baby, combined with timely access to early intervention services, the better outcome that baby will have in terms of developing speech and language skills, as well as developing social and emotional interactions from an early age.”

So far, there have been 164 babies in Ireland diagnosed with a Permanent Childhood Heari