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‘Horrendous’ failures in children’s hearing tests condemned

‘Horrendous’ failures in children’s hearing tests condemned
NHS Lothian has apologised for repeated failings in its paediatric audiology services over a nine-year period.

A health board’s failure to properly identify children as deaf over a nine-year period has been described as “horrendous” by a charity.

NHS Lothian has apologised after a report revealed repeated failings in children’s audiology between 2009 and 2018.

Repeated mistakes led to many children being identified as deaf years later than they should have been, meaning they suffered delays in receiving hearing technology.

An audit of the health board’s paediatric audiology identified “a series of serious, significant issues”, particularly for those aged five and under.

Of the 1,113 patient records audited, significant failures were identified in 155.

An on-site visit found three areas of the service with “very high risk of significant failure”.

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

Susan Daniels, National Deaf Children’s Society

The errors meant the average age of a child being identified as deaf in NHS Lothian was four-and-a-half years, far above the 109 days old average in England.

Commenting on the report, the National Deaf Children’s Society called for a sweeping review of children’s audiology around Scotland.

Chief executive Susan Daniels 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.”

Dr Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian, acknowledged the failings identified in the report.

She said: “We are very sorry and saddened to learn that there are some children whose conditions were not diagnosed correctly, or as early as possible, as a result of testing that was not up to standard.

“Due to these failings, the diagnosis of hearing loss or impairment in six children was missed.

“Diagnosis of a further six children was significantly delayed, with long-term consequences for these children.

“Their long-term development of speech and language will be affected and these children will require specialist support.

“Delayed diagnosis of hearing loss in a further 48 children is also likely to have resulted in some harm, though the longer-term impact of this will depend on the individual circumstances of each child.

“Some children may require to be retested.

“We have already written to the most severely affected families individually to offer support and a face-to-face meeting to discuss their child’s condition.”

A helpline for families who may have concerns has been set up on 0131 465 5457.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said NHS Lothian has been moved to Level 3 of the Scottish Government’s performance escalation framework.

“I am deeply disappointed at the unacceptable failures this report has highlighted, and I have already made my views unequivocally clear to NHS Lothian,” he said.

“The service provided to children affected and their families was simply not good enough.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said: “The families of the children left with hearing impairments as a result of poor treatment or misdiagnosis need an explanation for how this was ever allowed to happen.

“NHS Lothian say they have written to the most severely affected families.

“That’s not good enough – they should be writing to everyone affected.”