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Inquiry to be considered after children reassured hearing was fine only to be told years later of impairment

The HSE issued apologies to 60 children as result of failings related to paediatric audiology services.

Image: Shutterstock/Bangkoker

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said the government will consider an independent inquiry into failings in audiology services provided to children in Ireland.

RTÉ reported today that almost 60 families in the west of the country have received apologies in recent weeks for failings in audiology services provided to their children.

Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald raised the issue in the Dáil today, stating that this is not the first time that this issue has arisen.

Last year, the HSE issued apologies to 49 children in the same region as a result of failings related to paediatric audiology services. At that time, and now, some of the children affected were left with lifelong impairments as a result of the failings of our health service, said McDonald.

McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he had heard the story on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland  programme about an 11-year-old boy, named James from Mayo.

Told of impairment years later

“His parents were entirely unaware of his hearing impairment until they received a letter from the HSE in recent weeks apologising for the lack of care. Six years ago, James was in junior infants and his parents were reassured that his hearing was fine. He is now in fifth class and in the intervening period, he has had no treatment for his hearing impairment. We can only begin to imagine the impact that that has had on the child, socially, developmentally and educationally. It is shocking,” she said.

Varadkar told the Dáil today that the HSE has finalised the report of paediatric audiology services review for the Mayo-Roscommon area for 2011 to 2012 in June last year.

“It was shared with all 49 affected families in accordance with open disclosure principles. The report and accompanying documentation sent to families from the HSE included an apology for the failures identified and for the anxiety caused to families and those who may have been affected,” he said, adding that all 49 children who needed a follow-up as a result of the look-back are either receiving or have already received appropriate necessary care.

He said the HSE has been assisting parents in accessing the necessary health, educational and social protection services, and there has been significant cross-departmental co-operation.

Look-back review 

In December last year, the HSE recalled a further 57 who were identified during the look-back process, he added, stating that the HSE has indicated that this group had an appropriate audiology assessment and the hearing loss was correctly diagnosed.

However, he acknowledged that they were discharged without appropriate follow-up treatment and a management plan.

This group of 57 was not followed up at an earlier stage, as the preliminary risk assessment did not flag them as an area of concern. The group of 49 was seen as the at-risk group and was recalled as a priority, said the Taoiseach. 

“The HSE has advised the Department that all of those in the additional group of 57, 35 are under 18 and 22 are over 18, and all 57 have been contacted. To date, 26 have taken up the offer of an appointment. Some 31 did not attend but are being followed up. The priority is open disclosure, which is taking place, and making sure that those who need medical care, educational and social protection supports receive them,” he added. 

Inquiry

The Taoiseach said an independent inquiry into what happened will be considered. 

“We will give an independent inquiry consideration but the priority has to be making sure that affected patients are told and that they receive the medical care and any additional educational and social supports they need,” he said.

While McDonald said open disclosure is very necessary and welcome, there still has to be accountability, asking the Taoiseach who is responsible “for this mess?”

Varadkar said the clinician who carried out the hearing tests either failed to diagnose or failed to do a proper follow-up. The Taoiseach said he understands the people who made the mistakes are no longer working in the public health service.

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