Headlines: September 2nd, 2003

Half a million babies have now been given an NHS number within moments of birth. The landmark was passed just ten months after the introduction of the NHS Numbers For Babies (NN4B) system by the NHS Information Authority.The new system allows midwives to request a unique NHS number for every baby shortly after they are born. Before its introduction NHS numbers were issued at civil registration by Registrars of Births and Deaths, up to six weeks after birth. The authority believes this is important as, it says, the NHS number is the link that allows joined up healthcare from the word go.Newborn babies undergo a great many tests and a significant number of babies need extra healthcare, which can be administered across different departments or even hospitals. Newborn hearing tests, for example, began in 2001 and over 40 areas of England have already started offering screening tests within a few days of birth. The electronic transfer of information, using the NHS number as the enabler, means hearing test professionals, based at each NHS facility, can be notified of a birth almost immediately, ensuring that baby has his or her hearing tested by a new, painless and more effective procedure before they leave hospital. The system also ensures maximum screening coverage, more accurate records and less time spent on data entry, making sure babies with hearing impairments are not missed.

The hearing test is seen as the first of many that the early issue of the NHS number can facilitate. Sickle Cell, Thalassaemia, Phenylketonuria, Congenital Hypothyroidism and Haemoglobinopathy are among other tests babies need to undergo as soon as possible and use of the NHS number could make a huge difference to babies that may require follow up care. Martin Weller of the NHS number programme, says, “This small but important change in NHS number allocation means that every baby has a unique and reliable health record from birth, which will be vital as the electronic sharing of health information becomes commonplace.”