According to the Health Service Executive the national average waiting time is two and a quarter years, although waiting periods vary across the country.
At times there are more than 11,000 people with suspected hearing impairments awaiting an assessment – the bulk of them children.
Nearly half are waiting more than 10 months and about 10% are waiting to have hearing aids fitted.
Chief executive of DeafHear.ie – formerly the National Association of Deaf People – Niall Keane, said HSE management did not appear to appreciate the importance of a hearing aid.
“Hearing loss can be life-destroying with the person affected withdrawing bit by bit from society, leaving them at risk of developing mental health problems,” he said.
Mr Keane said it was crucial that children had a hearing aid fitted as soon as possible: “Without a hearing aid the child will suffer irreversible educational and developmental delay that will cost the state hugely.”
Mr Keane said the long waiting lists could be virtually eliminated without any new investment if changes were made in the way the service was delivered.
He believed the service was in disarray because of poor management and structures and that the appointment of more audiologists would not be enough to remedy the situation.
Mr Keane believed the introduction of a voucher scheme would allow adults to use private hearing aid dispensers, allowing the HSE to concentrate on the needs of children.
Mr Keane also claimed the children’s waiting list was clogged up with children who had no hearing loss, further delaying the age of diagnosis.
The introduction of newborn hearing screening would ensure early diagnosis, save money and free up audiology time, he said.
A national review of audio logical services is being carried out across the state and is expected to be completed in the autumn.
Mr Keane said DeafHear.ie had made a submission to the review but was not allowed to play a leading role in the process that got under way last October.
And while it was impossible to get the cost of hearing aids provided through the HSE, similar types bought from private dispensers cost around €500 and lasted around five years.
He said real savings could also be made if people could only claim up to 50% of the cost of hearing aids under the Pay Related Social Insurance scheme every five years, not every two as was the case at present.
Mr Keane, who commended the work of HSE audiology staff, said hearing aids provided through the health authority were replaced every five years.
Socialist Party Cllr Mick Barry said: “The villain of the piece here is the Government and their public sector recruitment embargo. With the hiring of more audiologists, these waiting lists could be slashed.”