We offer the 'heel prick' screen to all newborn babies, usually when they are between 3 and 5 days old.
A midwife or public health nurse carries out the screen, in hospital or at your home. They take a small sample of blood from your baby's heel. This is why it is known as the heel prick.
Laboratory staff then check your baby’s blood for 8 rare but serious conditions:
- cystic fibrosis (CF)
- congenital hypothyroidism (CHT)
- phenylketonuria (PKU)
- classical galactosaemia (C Gal)
- glutaric aciduria type 1 (GA1)
- MCADD (medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase deficiency)
- homocystinuria (HCU)
- maple syrup urine disease (MSUD)
These are all conditions which affect chemical processes in the body. Although these conditions are rare, detecting them early can prevent disability or death. Detecting them early means treatment can begin earlier and can result in better outcomes.
The heel prick is free and 99.9% of parents in Ireland agree to have their babies screened.
Limitations of screening
Like all screening, the heel prick is not 100% accurate. It does not make a diagnosis. It can only suggest that a baby is at high risk of having one or more of the conditions screened for.
Your maternity unit will contact you if the heel prick suggests that your baby is at high risk of having any of the 8 conditions we screen for. Your baby will then be referred for further tests.