Newborn metabolic screening programme

Taranaki pepi/babies are offered newborn metabolic screening after their first full day of life. This occurs in maternity or neonatal unit by the core maternity staff or LMC (lead maternity carer). It can also be offered at home by the LMC for pepi/babies born at home or who have gone home soon after birth from maternity. It is a simple heel prick blood sample collected on circles of paper and sent through to the Newborn Screening Unit at LabPlus in Auckland.

Purpose of screening

  • To identify babies with metabolic disorders as early as possible so as to enable early treatment.
  • To reduce the chance of illness, disability and even death in babies with metabolic disorders such as hypothyroidism and PKU (phenylketonuria)


Newborn metabolic screening began in the 1960s when scientists (notably Professor Bob Guthrie), developed blood on paper as an analytical specimen and a test to measure phenylalanine in infants to identify those with phenylketonuria (PKU). Professor Guthrie spent time in New Zealand with the late Professor Arthur Veale, the founder of newborn metabolic screening in New Zealand. Dr Dianne Webster now leads the service based at LabPLUS at Auckland City Hospital.

The Newborn Screening Unit (NSU) has responsibility for the funding, monitoring and strategic direction of the programme.
Each year almost all babies born in New Zealand are screened for over 20 metabolic disorders. About 50 newborns each year are found to have one of the metabolic disorders screened for.

Metabolic disorders

Metabolic disorders are rare, usually inherited disorders in which the pathways that produce certain proteins malfunction and are not easily detected at birth without screening. This can lead to a build-up of toxic chemicals in the cell or a lack of an important protein or enzyme in the body and can lead to an illness that is often irreversible, causing ill health, learning disabilities or death.

The benefits of screening

For the few who are diagnosed through the screening programme, the benefits of screening are enormous. Early treatment can improve their health and prevent severe disability and even death.


Treatment often takes the form of a special diet to reduce the amount of chemicals building up in the body. Sometimes it means ongoing medication.

NMSP Governance Team and Technical Group

The Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme Governance Team provides advice to the NSU on the operation and strategic direction of the programme. The Governance Team meets annually and has a smaller Technical Group which meets two to three times per year to consider technical and clinical aspects. The Governance Team comprises members who collectively have a wide knowledge and experience of newborn metabolic screening, including health practitioners, representatives of professional organisations and consumers.

For more information, discuss with your Lead Maternity Carer and visit:
Newborn Metabolic Screening Programme | National Screening Unit (



Last updated: Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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