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December 11, 2002

Deaf baby programme's first anniversary

From: Kingston Guardian and Surrey Comet, UK - 11 Dec 2002

A revolutionary programme to screen the hearing of newborn babies at Whipps Cross is celebrating its first anniversary.

The Newborn Hearing Screening Programme tests babies' hearing within days of their birth, whereas previously it was not tested until they were at least six months old.

The test has meant the diagnosis of deafness within hours or days of a baby's birth, meaning quicker treatment or help for the child in learning to live with the disability.

Two consultants lead the Audiology unit at Whipps Cross, including world-renowned deafness consultant Peter Watkin.

A hospital spokesman said of the test: "The sooner deafness is diagnosed, the sooner the child can interact, as being diagnosed at an early age means children can get used to it more easily.

"Also, any other medical intervention that is needed can start early, giving the child a better chance. In some cases a hearing problem can be rectified if treatment is given soon enough."

Last year the scheme was piloted in 23 hospitals in England, and by 2004 the test will be available to every parent in the country.

The National Deaf Children's Society is celebrating the anniversary with a reception at the House of Commons on Monday, and deaf campaigner Lord (Jack) Ashley of Stoke will attend.

Ninety per cent of deaf babies are born into families with no history of deafness and parents often do not recognise the symptoms of deafness in their child. Research shows that if the condition is diagnosed earlier than six months, and the child receives help and support straight away, then it can develop language at the same rate as a hearing child.

But early identification of deafness has traditionally been poor in this country.

The screening, as carried out at Whipps, is quick and painless. An ear-piece is put in the baby's ear which sends clicking sounds down it.

NDCS's Chief Executive Susan Daniels said: "The test revolutionises the identification of deafness, and is the first step in revolutionising the lives of babies born deaf in Leytonstone."

© Copyright 2002 Newsquest Media Group - A Gannett Company