350 youngsters wait for second hearing implant

HSE funding problems are preventing 350 profoundly deaf children from receiving life-changing implants vital to helping them hear.

Figures obtained by the Irish Examiner show that, despite cochlear ear implants for both ears being international best practice for children with profound deafness, the HSE does not fund the double procedures.

Beaumont Hospital has sought funds since 2009. It provided a business case for the bilateral operation — which involves implanting an electronic device in both ears — in October.

However, the minimum cost of €36,000 to €40,000 for a double implant is not being provided, with patients only given implants for one ear.

While the unilateral implant greatly improves hearing for profoundly deaf children, the lack of a bilateral service means hearing is still problematic — with the issue risking speech and language, education, and social inclusion difficulties. As a result, hundreds of children are losing out at a time when the impact of their conditions can be reduced.

Advocacy group Deafhear.ie said that this meant hearing service improvements such as the newborn screening programme were being hampered.

However, Beaumont chief executive Liam Duffy said there was little his hospital could do. “Beaumont Hospital is not funded for bilateral implants, but recognises it is best practice to perform simultaneous bilateral implants, and second implants for those children who have already received one,” he said.

“The hospital has been in contact with the HSE since 2009 regarding the funding necessary for the bilateral services and submitted a business case in Oct 2012.

“Since the programme commenced 17 years ago, 360 children have received cochlear implants, with 10 receiving bilateral implants due to specific conditions.

“Currently, there are 350 children awaiting a second implant.”

Beaumont gets €3m a year for its unilateral cochlear ear implant services. This helped 48 adults and 44 children this year, and in the “ongoing rehabilitation” of 710 others.

Children referred for a unilateral implant are seen within three months, and “normally” undergo surgery by seven months. The adult unilateral implant wait is “up to two years”.

Beaumont did not confirm the child wait for a second implant. However, in some cases, the delay is up to five years.

Deafhear.ie CEO Niall Keane said the fact that children were receiving one implant was progress and made the difference between no hearing and some hearing. However, he said it was worrying if best practice was not being met for funding reasons.

A HSE spokesperson said the service was considering Beaumont’s case alongside other funding applications for next year’s health service budget breakdown, to be confirmed in January.

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