Scottish Government waited to replace ear thermometers in Baby Box despite concerns over safety and accuracy

The Scottish Government waited ten months to replace ear thermometers in baby boxes sent out to new parents, despite official experts advising them to reconsider their inclusion.

In an exclusive story, the Press and Journal revealed the Government waited to use up the remaining stock of ear thermometers before making the change.

Ear thermometers are not recommended for use on newborn babies as they can give misleading readings.

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According to official NICE guidelines, under-arm thermometers should be used on babies who are under four weeks of age.

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A Freedom of Information request revealed an internal update that was sent to former children’s minister Maree Todd and others in February.

The update read: “There have been a small number of concerns about the use of the digital ear thermometer with very young babies, predominantly with temperature readings being potentially higher/ease of use by some families.

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“We have sought advice from professionals in paediatrics, neonatal and postnatal units, midwifery and health visiting workforce and, whilst there were no immediate safety concerns raised, the advice was to replace the digital ear thermometer with a digital under-arm thermometer when the stocks run out as this is more versatile and suitable from birth.”

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More than 200,000 Baby Boxes have been sent out to new parents in Scotland.

The Scottish Government began sending out under-arm thermometers in February, after seeking advice from healthcare visitors in April last year.

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The government’s clinical lead for the National Neonatal Network advised that “it would seem appropriate therefore to consider reviewing the type of thermometer included within the baby box”.

The Government’s senior medical adviser for paediatrics said it was not a “significant issue”. However, the adviser added: “Assuming cost is roughly equivalent for tympanic (ear) and under-arm thermometers, then it may be sensible to change to under arm to follow NICE, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the tympanic thermometer and deal with the concerns of whoever raised the issue.”

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The emails obtained found a parent wrote to officials, raising their concerns in July. The parent wrote: "There is a severe issue with the baby monitor from your box.

“The temperature on it is completely wrong and if I had gone by your thermometer, then I would have thought my six-month-old daughter only had a slight temperature when actually she had a horrendously high temperature and a raging infection.”

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Another email obtained by the Press and Journal showed Government officials discussing the possibility of allowing parents to exchange their ear thermometer for an under-arm thermometers. However, this was dismissed, and it was said it could “massively impact on budgets” and “unnecessarily concern parents”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Previous concerns were examined and all decisions on Scotland’s baby box contents were agreed in discussions with health professionals. Clinical experts had stressed that there was no reason not to include digital ear thermometers.

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“We replaced the digital ear thermometer with a digital under-arm thermometer from February 25, 2021 as this is more versatile and suitable from birth, but can still be used by other family members.

“This decision was based on the professional medical advice in relation to versatility and ease of use of digital thermometers by families, there were no other concerns with the in-ear thermometer.

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“We continue to evaluate how Scotland's baby box is helping families and continue to monitor how it can be improved.”

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