More than 2,000 babies a year will be screen for hearing difficulties under a Newborn Hearing Screening Programme at the Midlands Regional Portlaoise Hospital.
Portlaoise is the first midlands hospital to introduce the national programme. The simple hearing test will be offered free of charge to parents of almost 2,500 babies born yearly in Portlaoise. It is expected that up to five babies annually will have some level of hearing loss. Up to now problems were not diagnosed until about 30 months of age.
Dr Rizwan Gul, Consultant Paediatrician in Portlaoise says early detection of hearing difficulties will not only improve children’s communication skills, but save money.
“80 babies are born in Ireland every year with hearing loss. This will give them a better chance of developing speech and language skills, and having full social and emotional interaction. It also cuts out unnecessary investigations which have been wasting resources,” he said.
Four specially trained technicians will operate the service every morning. Using a small instrument similar to an electronic thermometer, they will test the hearing of babies over six hours old who are settled or sleeping, usually at their mother’s side.
The machine works by emitting a low ticking sound, measuring the echo coming back from inside the baby’s ear. If after three screenings, hearing loss is suspected, the baby will be referred to Audiology in Tullamore Hospital.
The hospital will also hold an outpatients clinic for homebirth babies. Babies in the Special Care Baby Unit and from families with hearing problems will be prioritised.
Maureen Nolan is Director of Nursing and Midwifery at Portlaoise.
“This is simply best practice. We welcome the screening staff as they take up their new positions and I would like to thank the Obstetric and Midwife teams for assisting them. We hope to have every baby tested before they leave,” she said.