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Crucial checks on babies by public health nurses drop 36pc in a year

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Babies born before the Covid-19 lockdown could be missing out on crucial developmental checks because of the pandemic.

New data from the HSE reveals health checks by public health nurses on new babies were down 36pc compared with the year before.

After a baby is born, a public health nurse may call to visit within 72 hours of the mother being discharged from the maternity hospital.

This visit is used to carry out key checks on the baby's health. They can be used to spot any disabilities or problems with the baby's hearing or eyesight.

In 2019, there were around 18,119 developmental checks on newborn babies in the month of April.

This is largely in line with the figure of 18,243 for the year before.

However, in April 2020 the number of visits had reduced to 11,569, a reduction of 36pc.

The HSE said that this was because "as all non-essential clinical work was suspended in March 2019 due to Covid-19".

"This included all routine child developmental screening and surveillance," it said.

A public health nurse will also call to check on the baby at around three months, then between seven and nine months and also between 18 and 24 months.

Toddlers can also be visited around the age of three.

The visits are to make sure that babies are growing properly and able to meet the same developmental goals as other children their age.

Visits could help identify possible underlying problems which babies could have that could damage their ability to grow and learn, and help babies who may need further specialist examination.

Figures were not available for the number of developmental checks for older babies that were carried out in 2020.

"The HSE has developed a formal programme of work under the governance of the chief clinical officer and chief operations officer, namely the continuity of system wide healthcare services steering group," said Siobhán McArdle, the head of operations for primary care.

"The focus is to plan the recommencement of the delivery of non-Covid services to address ongoing clinical demands while maintaining capacity for Covid-19 rapid response.

"All service areas including baby developmental checks are considered as part of this planning process and it should be noted that child health is considered a strategic priority in considerations around service continuity and recovery."

The figures were released by the HSE following a parliamentary question from Louise O'Reilly, Sinn Féin's spokeswoman for health.

Irish Independent