Caring for every Victorian newborn baby’s hearing during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Centre for Community Child Health’s Victorian Infant Hearing Screening Program (VIHSP) has successfully adapted its operations to ensure babies continue to receive the best chance of normal speech and language development despite challenges posted by COVID-19.

VIHSP is responsible for screening the hearing of more than 78,000 Victorian newborns each year, in an effort to identify infants born with permanent hearing loss as early as possible. Here at the RCH, over 100 RCH staff are responsible for delivering the newborn hearing screen.

The success of newborn hearing screening relies on the capacity of the service to reach as many infants as possible. In Victoria, over 99 per cent of newborn infants typically complete the VIHSP screen, making the screening program’s population coverage world leading. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of barriers presented themselves to ensuring access to the newborn hearing screen. These included an increasing number of restrictions introduced by hospitals to visitors and outpatient clinics, parental anxiety, and parents deciding to defer screening until a later time. Despite this, VIHSP adapted its workforce and operational protocol to ensure that the majority of babies can continue to have their hearing screened within the recommended timeframe. Some of the changes to existing processes involved maximising the number of inpatient screens, rostering staff in staggered shifts, prioritising high-risk babies, and tracking babies who were discharged without a screen.

It’s reassuring that despite the challenges facing the hearing screening program during COVID-19, Victorian babies are continuing to be able to benefit from hearing screening and begin their life with the best chance of optimal speech and language development. Congratulations to all of the VIHSP team for their outstanding effort!

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