Newborn Hearing Screening –
Experiences from SSAFA Health Visitors British Forces Cyprus

SSAFA Heath Care staff in British Forces Cyprus implemented the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHS) in 2006.  This service ensures babies born to British Forces Families in Cyprus receive comparable care to the UKs NHS service.

The NHS Newborn Hearing Screening Programme (NHSP) was commissioned by the Department of Health following a report in 1997 which showed that the previous way in which early hearing impairment was detected, the Health Visitor distraction test carried out at around 8 months of age, missed a large number of children and that almost a quarter of children born deaf in the UK were not identified until they were three and a half or older.

At least one in every 900 babies born in the UK will have a permanent childhood hearing impairment that can significantly affect their language and social development. This figure increases to about 1 in every 100 babies who have spent more than 48 hours in intensive care. The majority of these babies are born into families with no experience or history of hearing loss.

NHSP aims to identify moderate, severe and profound deafness and hearing impairment in newborn babies. The programme automatically offers all parents in the UK the an opportunity to have their baby's hearing tested shortly after birth. Early identification, via the programme, gives babies a better 'life chance' of developing speech and language skills, and of making the most of social and emotional interaction from an early age.

The opportunity arose in September 2006 for a trainer from the NHSP to visit Cyprus and deliver bespoke training to SSAFA Health Visitors and provide hearing screening equipment.  Subsequently the service has been delivered by SSAFA Health Visitors in British Forces Cyprus.

SSAFA Health Visitors screen all newborn infants born to British military families and entitled civilians when they are 10-14 days old, at home, as part of the primary visit, mirroring the NHS community model delivered in the UK.

Cyprus is a renowned holiday destination with sunshine almost every day of the year.  However, the climate also provides many challenges when screening babies, not least the soaring summer temperatures.  While babies adapt to the high temperatures, electric fans and portable air conditioners can play havoc with the screening process and equipment.  The SSAFA Health Visitors have become expert at preparing the baby and parents for the screening in these difficult conditions. Two methods of screening are used, the Automated Otoacoustic Emissions test and the Automated Auditory Brainstem Response test. Both are painless and safe and are usually carried out when the baby is asleep or settled. . 

Annually two members of the SSAFA Health Visiting Team return to the UK for NHS update training and equipment servicing and calibration training. 

This is then brought back and shared with other SSAFA Health Visitors in Cyprus.  NHSP is an added skill for SSAFA Health Visitors and one they enjoy delivering to families to ensure they are receiving care comparable to the UK’s National Health Service.