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Wednesday, 28 June, 2000, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Hearing tests for all newborns
Deaf pupils
Deafness should be picked up earlier by new tests
All babies will have their hearing tested within 48 hours of birth, the government has announced.

Current tests - carried out at seven months - are unreliable with almost half of the 840 children born deaf every year still undiagnosed at 18 months.



Early diagnosis will ensure that new technology is harnessed to transform children's lives

James Strachan, Royal National Institute for Deaf People
The "distraction tests", in which a health visitor watches to see if infants respond to a noise from an unseen source, are unsuccessful even at the age of three-and-a-half, when almost a quarter are still unrecognised as suffering from a serious hearing problem.

The delay in diagnosis means children miss out on vital early teaching and support, and families have little time to consider the options for treating their child.

But a new test, which involves sending a sound into a baby's ear and measuring the level of returned sound, is much more reliable and can be given two days after birth, while the child is still in hospital.

Pilot

A pilot programme to use the new tests at 20 sites across England will start in September, public health minister Yvette Cooper announced.

It is hoped that after a year's trial, the test will be used nationally.

Ms Cooper said: "We are very keen on the proposals for a universal neonatal screening programme for deafness in children."

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People welcomed the announcement.

Chief executive James Strachan said: "One unidentified case of deafness in a baby is one too many and the universal introduction of this test will help prevent this.

"More than that, early diagnosis will ensure that new technology, such as high powered digital hearing aids and cochlear implants, is harnessed to transform children's lives.

"We eagerly anticipate the national rollout of the scheme, when the test and follow up services is available to all parents of new born babies.

"We will work with the government to ensure these essential services are in place for deaf children under two and their parents."

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See also:

08 Jun 99 | Health
Hearing services 'are grim'
20 Apr 00 | Health
Disability in depth
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