Sept 2020 Scoop.co.nz

New Zealand’s two providers of cochlear implant services today cautiously welcomed the National Party pledge that, if elected, it will increase the number of adult cochlear implants from 40 to 100 per year. Southern Cochlear Implant Programme (SCIP) Chief Executive, Neil Heslop, said that currently just 40 adults nationally receive government funding for a cochlear implant every year. Today, there are 230 eligible adults on the waitlist, and with 200 new referrals each year this number is expected to increase significantly. “Base funding for adult cochlear implants has not changed for the past six years, despite the growing backlog,” said Neil. “This means hundreds of profoundly deaf New Zealand adults are languishing in a silent prison, waiting to hear again.

“On behalf of our patients we will always welcome any proposal to sustainably increase funding to meet the growing need for these life-changing devices, whichever party becomes government.”

Lee Schoushkoff, Chief Executive of the Northern Cochlear Implant Programme (NCIP), said the cruellest thing about the current situation is that the technology is readily available. “But the Government has put it in a glass cage, which is opened only for a select few,” said Lee. “Cochlear implants are not covered by health insurance - either you are one of the 20 percent lucky enough to be funded, or you pay $50,000 to have the procedure privately.”

Adds Neil, “We now find ourselves in the distressing situation of ‘playing God’ with the quality of life and mental health of a number of otherwise productive New Zealanders. “A further sad fact is that the majority of our adult candidates will die before they receive an implant.”

Both programmes claim the situation has now reached crisis point. “While we appreciate the financial effects of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic in regard to other health outcome government investment, the funding increase sought to return the gift of hearing is incremental and comparatively small,” said Lee. “Together, we are challenging all political parties to adopt an increased funding initiative, or a cross-party agreement, that funding will increase to at least meet demand.”

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