Routine screening for lead levels has been added to other blood tests ordered for children aged 0-4 years at Mount Isa Hospital.
Children under five were regarded as being the most vulnerable to health risks from lead. The new testing program is a component of the Mount Isa Lead Health Management Committee’s Strategic Plan 2013-2016.
The Department of Health has provided recurrent funding of $90,000 a year to support the hospital testing and prevention programs.
The new testing program is designed to expand the current free blood lead testing program that is in place in Mount Isa through the QML Laboratory.
Blood lead testing for children under five allows health authorities to track lead exposure, identify risk factors, and offer targeted interventions designed to minimise the risk of continued lead exposure, to gauge more accurately the environmental lead health risk to children in higher risks groups within the broader community.
Children in these higher-risk groups are more likely to be seen at the hospital for various other conditions, introducing screening for blood lead levels to all routine blood tests that they undergo at hospital will help build up a better picture of their level of risk. This, in turn, will help us develop more targeted measures or interventions to help prevent or mitigate ongoing exposure to lead in the domestic environments of these higher risk children.
200 children a year had blood tests at Mount Isa Hospital, so the addition of lead screening to standard blood tests would see a significant annual increase to the current testing program.
This testing program is an opt out program, unless parents specifically say no, a blood lead level screen will be carried out as a routine part of any blood tests ordered for any child under five at Mount Isa Hospital. This would be done without taking any additional blood samples. It is a piggy back on to any other blood tests ordered if they have not already had their blood lead levels checked in the previous year.
In addition to the hospital testing program, and the existing free QML program, a number of other initiatives will be pursued to encourage more parents to have their children tested.