A new method to test the hearing of newborn babies is being piloted in Sussex.

Brighton and Hove is one of 20 pilot sites approved by the Department of Health to try a new procedure.

Health visitors and midwives employed by South Downs Health NHS Trust will carry out the Universal Neonatal Hearing Test (UNHT) on ten-day-old babies at home.

The test will be part of the routine of health visitors, who see babies at home in the first six weeks after birth.

The UNHT method uses a small probe and microphone to check ear activity, which specialists say is more simple and accurate than the existing infant distraction test.

About 3,600 babies are expected to be screened at home with a further 380 checked at the Trevor Mann baby unit at Royal Sussex County Hospital.

Currently babies are tested when aged about eight months. Early hearing tests are done only if there may be a problem.

Research has shown these children only make up about 40 per cent of the total cases. Other children slip through the net and their cases are not picked up until later.

Youngsters who have hearing loss identified at a later age are at risk of delaying their development of language skills.