Seanad debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Audiology Services Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I raise a matter I have raised on a number of previous occasions, namely, the number of children affected by failings in the audiology service across counties Roscommon and Mayo. As I am sure the Minister of State is aware, 49 families received an apology from the HSE on 7 June 2018, while a further 57 received an apology earlier this year for failings in audiology services. The failings have had a significant impact on the children affected and their families.Since June of last year, I have been working with many of these families and it has been a difficult year because we have not seen adequate evidence of the HSE providing an apology and putting in place adequate supports for these children. We faced issues about access, particularly to educational supports because many of the challenges that these children face have manifested themselves within the education system, especially in special educational hours, assistive technology, access to domiciliary care allowance and medical cards, and a long-term pathway for these children to transition along. We must ensure that these children, like others, achieve their full potential.

Over the past year, one would think that these families were asking for something to which they are not entitled. They have been wronged by this State and we need to ensure that proper supports are put in place for these children. I have been working with the chief health officer in area 2, Mr. Tony Canavan. At that time, I asked questions of the HSE, as part of the Department of Health, and the Departments of Education and Skills and Employment Affairs and Social Protection. We have had many meetings but the most recent was in March and we have not had any follow-up since on the many concerns we still have.

These children and their families do not want to have to access these supports or battle for every support they need. Many of them have been assessed by relevant professionals who have recommended specific forms of support, particularly within the context of the education system. I want to know what the Government and HSE are going to do to support these children properly. We are, at this stage, beyond platitudes. We want action. What supports will be put in place? We know that each child has different needs but we want to ensure that their needs will be supported for the good of their education and health.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Senator for the opportunity to provide an update on the supports in place for children affected by the failings in audiology service in Roscommon and Mayo. In April 2011, the HSE published the report of its national audiology review group, NARG. The group developed recommendations to address inconsistencies and inadequacies in audiology services. Arising from the recommendations of the review group, the HSE appointed a national clinical lead for audiology and four assistant regional clinical leads to deliver a modernisation programme and to implement new care pathways and improved clinical governance. The newly appointed HSE assistant national lead raised concerns about the standard of audiology assessments and hearing aid management provided in Mayo-Roscommon.

Following on from these concerns, the HSE commissioned a look-back review of paediatric audiology services in Mayo-Roscommon during the period 2011 to 2015. In June 2018, the look-back report was finalised and shared with the families of 49 children who were identified in the report as needing follow-up care.

Since then the HSE has provided a comprehensive programme of services, where required, to all 49 children identified in the report. In addition, the HSE has assisted parents in accessing necessary educational and social protection services. The implementation of the programme of supports and services has been led by the chief officer in HSE west and has been facilitated by a dedicated named point of contact based in the HSE west primary care office. These services include occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, physiotherapy, psychology, counselling for parents, ophthalmology, funding for lT, audiology equipment, and aids and appliances. A HSE liaison contact person has assisted families in many areas, including completing applications for services and communicating with other Departments and agencies. Families have been reimbursed where they have had to source services privately and for expenses associated with attending audiology related appointments. These services include play therapy, art therapy, educational psychology, and private ear, nose and throat consultant appointments.

Nine families have contacted the Department of Education and Skills. A review of the educational supports available to these children has been completed. The Department has contacted schools and parents or guardians, as appropriate, on the outcome of its review. The educational needs of these children have been assessed and appropriate supports and assistive technologies have been provided. Domiciliary care allowance applications have been allowed in respect of five hearing loss related applications, one has not been allowed after appeal, and one is going through the appeal process. The chief officer of HSE west has chaired a number of meetings with families. These meetings have been attended by senior officials in other Departments and agencies.

The HSE has apologised to all of the families for the inadequate services provided to all of the children concerned during the period in question and is ensuring that appropriate follow-up facilities are put in place. It is important to remember that the failures in question came to light through various initiatives to improve the quality of service, first by the commissioning of the NARG report to set standards of care, second, by the appointment of the new assistant regional audiology lead to assess the level of services provided in Mayo-Roscommon against the standards and recommendations contained in the NARG report, and subsequently by the commissioning of the look-back review to investigate the concerns raised by the new audiology lead. As a result of all of these actions, all of the children affected have either received or are receiving the appropriate care they need.

Photo of Maura HopkinsMaura Hopkins (Fine Gael)
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I will reflect on the last sentence of the Minister of State: "As a result of all of these actions, all of the children affected have either received or are receiving the appropriate care they need." I find that response very disingenuous. I have just come from another meeting with education officials. I can and will provide the Minister of State with a file of all the different challenges in the education system that have not been solved. That file applies to assistive technology and special educational hours. Every support that has been secured over the past year has been secured because parents, not the HSE, have been proactive. I have worked with many such parents and I find that reply exceptionally disingenuous to the families who have been affected by audiology failings. I have no more to say on the issue.

Photo of Denis O'DonovanDenis O'Donovan (Fianna Fail)
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I am sure we will hear more from Senator Hopkins on that issue.