Call to automate baby hearing tests

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The Independent Online
All new-born babies should have their hearing tested with a new automatic probe, a government report is expected to recommend after research has shown that three out of four babies with hearing difficulties are being missed by current screening methods.

The report, by the Medical Research Council's Institute of Hearing Research in Nottingham, is understood to say that of 840 children born with permanent hearing problems each year, only one-quarter are identified by the standard hearing check at nine months. This usually involves one health visitor distracting the child while another makes quiet sounds to see whether the baby notices.

The test picks up one in four children with hearing loss and another one-quarter are identified in other ways by the age of 18 months. But half are not diagnosed until the age of three, according to Health Which? magazine. This means that they do not benefit from hearing aids at a crucial time in their development.

The new test, which is cheaper and more accurate than the distraction test, involves inserting a probe into the baby's ear which sends out clicks and then listens for the tiny echoes that a healthy ear should send back.

Dr Tina Ramkalawan, one of the report's authors, says parents might be anxious that something is wrong but be unsure what it is and unable to do anything about it, according to the magazine.

"It is very worrying if you are a parent with a child who doesn't respond to you and you've no idea why. Parents may think they have got a difficult child when in fact the child just can't hear," Dr Ramkalawan said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that all recommendations on screening had to go before the National Screening Committee, chaired by Sir Kenneth Calman, the Government's chief medical officer, which next meets in October.

t Medical records held by GPs can be inaccurate or misleading, Health Which? magazine says. Of 23 volunteers who asked to see their records, five found mistakes. One patient had a pain in his left side recorded as a pain in his right, another had her age noted as 53 instead of 35.

Six patients said there were gaps in their medical histories. One found no records before 1995 and another found no mention of a prescription for methadone he had received for severe back pain.

In a separate case that came to light, a woman whose father sexually abused her as a child found her records had been changed. One entry, which she saw during one of her many visits to the surgery, referred to "bizarre and wild allegations appertaining to abuse by the father". When she later asked for her records this reference had been erased. Other records of visits to the same GP, a family friend, were also missing making her claims of sexual abuse look less credible. Her father was eventually convicted on evidence from another child victim.

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