The National Deaf Children’s Society has called for a sweeping review of children’s audiology services in Scotland after almost a decade of failures by NHS Lothian.
At least 887 children are known to have been affected during the nine-year period, 155 significantly, but the actual number could potentially include thousands more and the problems have continued.
The charity has spoken out after a new report, published today, uncovered repeated mistakes by NHS Lothian’s audiology service, with at least 100 deaf children among those affected.
The report reveals cases of deaf children being wrongly deprived of crucial technology, incorrectly discharged or identified years later than they should have been. Some have been left with life-changing consequences as a result.
In response, the charity has today written to the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf MSP. The letter calls for an assurance that such catastrophic errors will never happen again and asks for urgent Government action to improve audiology services across the country.
The failures were revealed in a new audit report, carried out by the British Academy of Audiology to examine NHS Lothian’s children’s audiology caseload of 22,900 from 2009-2018.
It sampled 1,007 cases and found there were concerns about assessment and care in 887 of them (88%). Of those, 155 had “significant concerns”.
The specific findings of the report include:
- The average age of children identified as deaf under NHS Lothian was 1,653 days (4.53 years old), compared to 109 days in England. The report says this appeared to have gone “unreported and un-noticed.”
- 12 children were eligible for cochlear implantation, but this was significantly delayed, to the extent where some missed out on getting them altogether.
- There was no evidence that nine of the children were offered a hearing aid, even though it would likely have helped them.
- 49 children had a delayed identification of hearing loss or the fitting of their hearing aid was delayed.
- 30 were not offered the right hearing aids.
- The remainder of the 155 were wrongly discharged or mismanaged.
As a result, the National Deaf Children’s Society is calling for a review of children’s audiology services across Scotland. It wants to see the Scottish Government introduce national leadership for services, robust data collection and a mandatory program setting out clear standards for care.
Without urgent action, the charity says there’s a real danger that many more deaf children risk not getting the quality of care they need.
Locally, it wants NHS Lothian to commit to following the recommendations made by the report, review its past caseload to avoid repeating the same mistakes and announce a clear plan on how it will catch up and deliver for deaf children and their families.
The charity is also strongly advising all affected families to seek independent specialist legal advice. It is already offering support to families affected and says that anyone who is worried about the report should contact its helpline.
Susan Daniels, Chief Executive at the National Deaf Children’s Society, said:
“The horrendous findings in this report represent a real-life nightmare for the families involved. They placed their trust in a service that was supposed to help, only to be completely let down. Some will be left with life-changing consequences, while many others across Scotland will now be facing the very real fear that the same thing could happen to them.
“Early identification and the right care are vital in helping deaf children develop language and communication at a crucial age, so this must never be allowed to happen again.
“This means we need urgent action from the Scottish Government, starting with a thorough review of children’s audiology services across the country. Until we have national leadership, better data collection and mandatory standards that services must comply with, thousands more deaf children could be at risk and families won’t be able to rest.
“We’re already in touch with several families affected and we’ve provided them with support and guidance. Anyone else who’s been affected, or feels worried about this issue, can contact our helpline or visit our website at www.ndcs.org.uk.”