Chime is shocked to learn that a significant number of HSE audiologists, including paediatric audiologists, have been redeployed to provide Covid-19 testing, with potentially significant consequences for some deaf children.
According to the national charity deafness and hearing loss, nationally the number of audiologists in the HSE is relatively low at approximately 70 posts.
Chime has learned that five of the nine Community Healthcare Organisation (CHO) areas have been affected. Furthermore, Chime is particularly concerned about reports that across Galway, Mayo and Roscommon, paediatric audiologists are being redeployed.
Commenting this Wednesday, CEO of Chime Mark Byrne said that the redeployment of audiologists is disproportionate, will add significantly to waiting lists and will have lifelong consequences for some of the children affected.
“Communication for all children is vital for their development – and children who use hearing aids need regular appointments with their audiologist to ensure they have access to high quality sound to support their education and development. On behalf of the families who Chime support, we are concerned about the impact caused by redeployment where no alternative service is available.”
Mr Byrne added that national guidance is needed to inform decisions that are balanced, consistent and have the least impact on the individual and their quality of life. He said that pre-Covid-19 audiology services were already stretched with considerable waiting lists for adults in particular, and that while it is somewhat reassuring that in some CHO areas there has been no redeployment of audiologists, the redeployment in some areas is alarming.
Laura Grant, chairperson of Our New Ears, an organisation supporting families of deaf and hard of hearing children, added: “All parents in this country are concerned about their children contracting Covid-19 and the consequences it may have for them. However, for our children who are deaf and hard of hearing, the consequences of Covid-19 will be lifelong, even if they never contract it because their essential service has been effectively withdrawn due to redeployment and lack of staff and the destruction of a meaningful audiology service.
"Parents are under unbelievable pressure to bridge gaps that are so far beyond what could be expected of anyone. These children are suffering and will continue to suffer for many years as a result of the decisions being made by HSE management and the lack of any ring fencing around this precious lifeline for our children.”
Evelyn Casserly, who lives in County Galway, has a seven-year-old daughter, Hollie, who has complex hearing loss that requires regular review. Even before Covid-19 arrived, Evelyn said that they had to "fight" for every audiology appointment, and that the service in Galway is very under-resourced.
Hollie has not been seen by the HSE audiology service since August 2019. Luckily, Hollie is also a cochlear implant user and she had an appointment scheduled in Beaumont Hospital in June. Evelyn said that Beaumont provided Hollie with new ear moulds and “helped us out of a fix.”
Regular appointments for children is essential to replace ear moulds, which must fit growing ears snugly for hearing aids to work effectively. For those children with complex or progressive hearing loss, regular reviews are vital to ensure the child’s hearing aids are providing them with high quality sound.
Rosie Gardner, a listening and spoken language specialist, pointed out that the early years is a critical time-sensitive window for a child’s auditory brain to develop pathways for sound processing and for the brain to begin to develop language.
She said: “If this development does not happen within this window, it can have lifelong consequences for the child. The audiologist plays a critical role in ensuring the child with hearing loss has access to sound of high integrity to maximise their language development potential, so redeploying audiologists and delaying access to appointments for these children makes no sense whatsoever.”
Chime is calling on the Minister for Heath to intervene and ensure that children with deafness and hearing loss are not disproportionately impacted by the redeployment of clinicians to Covid-19 testing. In particular they are asking that immediate steps are taken to restore the paediatric audiologist to their post in CHO 2 with immediate effect.