Fears over late diagnosis of cleft palates

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A high number of babies with a cleft palate are being diagnosed late, a report has found.

A report from the Royal College of Surgeons (RCS) revealed 
that some maternity units are better than others at identifying 
clefts during the newborn examination.

For example, only 42 per cent of cleft palates were identified within 24 hours of birth in the North Thames area, whereas more than 94 per cent were identified at birth in the Oxford area.

National standards state that clefts should be diagnosed within 24 hours of birth to enable immediate referral to a specialist hospital.

The report found that 28 per cent of babies with a cleft that affects the roof of the mouth alone are diagnosed outside of this target, with five per cent remaining undiagnosed until after one month of age.

Although only 71 per cent of cleft palates were identified at birth in 2011, this is four per cent higher than in 2010.

Rona Slator, consultant plastic surgeon and clinical director of West Midlands Cleft Service, said: “All babies with a cleft will need surgical treatment once they are old enough, but prior to this the newborn, and their family, will require special bottles, guidance and help with feeding. Early diagnosis really is imperative.”