Significant concerns continue to be raised about the identification and support of deaf children within the National Health Service’s paediatric audiology departments across the UK.
On 25 June 2023, an article published in The Sunday Times1 shed light on yet another nationwide failure in paediatric audiology, potentially impacting thousands of deaf children. This adds to the already damning conclusions of the British Academy of Audiology (BAA) Review into NHS Lothian Paediatric Audiology Audit Report in December 2021 of service provision by a Scottish health board.
According to The Sunday Times article, poor quality testing within the paediatric audiology departments at five NHS hospitals meant that infant deafness may have been missed for years, resulting in thousands of deaf children potentially being overlooked.
The report indicates that deaf children are facing substantial delays in receiving appropriate audiology assessments and interventions and warns of systemic failings. The consequences of such delays can be far-reaching, impacting a child’s speech and language development, educational attainment and overall quality of life at crucial stages of development.
The 2021 BAA report highlighted a system that has consistently failed vulnerable children in need of audiology support. The report made 36 recommendations, nine of which were to be addressed immediately. The BAA said it had found “no evidence” that national guidelines and protocols on hearing tests for children had been followed or consistently applied “at any point since 2009”.
The average age of hearing loss at NHS Lothian between 2009 and 2018 was four and a half years compared to 109 days in England. Due to these failings, the long-term development of speech and language will require specialist support. Pogust Goodhead is continuing to assist families affected and is considering legal action against the Health Board and NHS Trusts in England in an effort to address the harms that have been caused and to ensure that children affected by these failings have access to the support services required to help them to lead a normal life.
Sadly, in some cases, children have been put at risk of irreversible harm.
The internal NHS report of practice in England suggests that poor-quality testing within paediatric audiology departments was endemic, and medics were warned of systemic failings. At Croydon University Hospital, almost 1,500 children were found to have missed out on appointments or were misdiagnosed. These cases date back to 2012. NHS England has now ordered all hospitals to carry out an urgent review of their services.
Both the national failures highlighted in The Sunday Times article and the challenges faced by NHS Lothian Paediatric Audiology services underscore the need for significant improvements in the identification and support of deaf children across the United Kingdom. Pogust Goodhead has identified the following key themes for individuals and families affected:
1. Timely Assessments: Both reports emphasise the need for early audiological assessments to ensure appropriate interventions and minimise the impact on a child’s development.
2. Access to Services: The reports reveal common issues related to long waiting times, limited resources, and inconsistent care pathways, indicating systemic problems that need to be addressed nationwide.
3. Failure to follow National Protocols: Leading to tests being carried out incorrectly or misinterpreting the results, causing significant delays in diagnosis and access to treatment or, in some cases, misdiagnosis.
3. Communication and Support: Both reports highlight chronic failings in communication within Trusts as they failed to involve children and their families in decision-making and provide holistic support.
The national failures outlined serve as another abrupt wake-up call for the NHS, emphasising the urgency of addressing the challenges faced within paediatric audiology departments.
While the BAA report on NHS Lothian Paediatric Audiology services focuses on a specific region, it provides insights into both the difficulties faced and potential solutions that can be implemented elsewhere. Those lessons have clearly not been learned, and children & young people continue to be let down.
If you believe you or your family have been affected by these failures, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.
The Pogust Goodhead legal team have specialist expertise in handling medical negligence cases across the UK, making them expertly placed to provide tailored support and advice on your potential claim and to represent you in seeking justice for the consequences of delayed and inaccurate diagnoses.
You can find out more about our current litigation against NHS Lothian at NHSLothianClaimLawyers.com.