March 2020

A young girl missed out of years of language development because systemic failings meant her hearing loss was not picked up years earlier. In a Human Rights Review Tribunal decision, the Southern District Health Board (DHB) acknowledged it provided inadequate level of audiology for the girl, whose family had been seeking help since she was 2 months old. The board said the audiometry service it was operating at the time was "suboptimal and the equipment was inadequate”. It accepted a room used for sound testing was inadequate, and the stand-alone audiologist did not receive supervision and peer support. An earlier peer review found the audiologist, named Mr G in the decision, believed he could tell whether there was a response from a child without other evidence.

The baby involved in the tribunal case had been starved of oxygen and had to be resuscitated for 18 minutes when she was born in 2016. Similar cases often involved an increased risk of permanent hearing loss and she was referred to Dunedin Hospital when she was 2 months old.

Her family were told any hearing issues were likely caused by a middle ear disorder, such as fluid.

Antibiotics were recommended and a repeat assessment was ordered a month later, with the baby referred to the hospital's Ear, Nose and Throat department.

Dunedin HospitalSignificant changes have been made to Dunedin Hospital's audiology services

The tribunal noted the baby's health should have been assessed more thoroughly because of the risk of permanent hearing loss associated with her birth. She was seen by a Vision and Hearing team when she started kindergarten, who referred her to Dunedin Hospital for failing a hearing test.

Mr G advised her mother there was nothing to worry about. She was referred back to the hospital two more times by the Vision and Hearing team – "each time with the same outcome", the tribunal noted. The audiologist told the mother her child could hear.

The mother declined a further referral, due to Mr G's advice, when the girl went for her B4 School Check in May 2010. Concerns about the girl's language development led to a private audiological assessment, which found she had been developmentally delayed by two years. She was referred again to Dunedin Hospital, where Mr G performed an audiological assessment. It was the first time specific frequency thresholds were obtained for both ears. In May 2011, a speech and language therapist expressed concerns that the girl had hearing loss. Hearing loss was finally identified when she was seen by another audiologist. The girl was fitted with hearing aids in August 2011 and received a right cochlear implant less than a year later. A recent educational assessment reported noted her hearing age was that of a 6-year-old – and not a 12-year-old. She had missed out on six years of language, which had a "significant impact on her social skills".

An external review of the Southern DHB's audiology service began in July 2010, partly driven by complaints. It identified several keys issues, including the testing room being too noisy and that no personnel with acceptable credentials were able to carry out a screening programme. The DHB acknowledged it did not take adequate steps to ensure Mr G received supervision and peer support. An external review in 2013 noted the DHB had made "significant changes" to its audiology services – the most important being the hiring of qualified staff. The facilities at Dunedin Hospital have since been substantially upgraded

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Here is a link to Deafblindness support and information.
They are based in Western Australia and supported by Senses Australia.

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Hear For You web site

Vision Statement: “For all young people who are deaf to reach their potential in life.”

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