Thursday, 10 October 2019
Department of Health
Newborn Screening Cards
38. To ask the Minister for Health when the chair of the National Screening Committee will be appointed; and if he and the new chair will ensure that newborn screening services are expanded to test for a greater range of conditions; and if an expanded programme will be operational in 2020. [40980/19]
A National Screening Committee is being established and will hold its first meeting before the end of 2019, as per recommendation 5, contained within the Scally Review (2018). The Committee’s role will be to undertake an independent assessment of the evidence for screening for a particular condition against internationally accepted criteria and make recommendations accordingly.
I appointed Professor Niall O’Higgins as Chair of the Committee in July 2019 and asked that, as part of its initial body of work, the Committee prioritise a review of the national newborn blood-spot screening programme and look specifically at how Ireland should best proceed with an expansion in line with international best practice.
Ireland, very much like the UK has always evaluated the case for commencing a national screening programme against international accepted criteria – collectively known as the Wilson Junger criteria. The evidence bar for commencing a screening programme should and must remain high. This ensures that we can be confident that the programme is effective, quality assured and operating to safe standards.
There is no doubt that newborn screening programmes have the potential to be rapidly transformed by new technologies and new therapies but this highlights the need to continue with a robust, methodologically sound and detailed analysis of the evidence in each and every case against the Wilson and Junger criteria.
Any future potential changes to the National Newborn Bloodspot Screening Programme will be incorporated as part of the Committee’s work programme. I cannot pre-empt the outcome of the deliberations of the Committee on this topic but I would anticipate that the number of conditions meeting the criteria for a population based screening programme will increase over the coming years.