A Black mother cradles her newborn baby who is asleep in her arms.

Detection of jaundice in newborn babies

Summary

The national investigation

We have launched an investigation into the detection of jaundice in newborn babies.

Jaundice is a common condition in newborn babies. Approximately 60% of term and 80% of preterm babies develop jaundice in the first week of life. This resolves naturally in the majority of babies. However, it’s estimated that 1 in 20 babies require treatment to resolve their jaundice.

This investigation explores safety issues associated with the delayed diagnosis of jaundice in newborn babies. We’ll look into the reliance on visual signs as a means of detecting neonatal jaundice. We’ll also consider the impact of a baby’s ethnicity on timely diagnosis.


Reference event

The reference event in our investigation involves a 32-week-old newborn baby of black African ethnicity.

Blood samples taken on day one and day two of life showed that the baby had jaundice that needed treatment. There were no visual signs of jaundice observed by staff at this time. On day five of life visual signs of jaundice were observed by staff and a further blood test taken which confirmed jaundice requiring treatment. This was started and the baby subsequently discharged home.


Investigation summary

This investigation will:

  • Understand the context and contributory factors that influence a delay in diagnosis of jaundice in newborn babies.
  • Explore the reliance on visual signs as a means of detecting neonatal jaundice and the impact of ethnicity on this.
  • Consider national guidance and information provided to support the diagnosis of jaundice in newborn babies with black and brown skin.
  • Identify the implications of the findings for mitigating the risk of delayed diagnosis of jaundice in newborn babies.