THE BLOG

Let Down And Left Behind: How The Government And NHS Is Failing Deaf Children

21/04/2017 16:31 BST | Updated 21/04/2017 16:31 BST
Image taken by Mayte Torres via Getty Images

Last month saw Dawn Butler MP ask a question in sign language in Parliament. To see an MP using sign language in our Parliament was a powerful symbol to deaf people across the country.

But while it is important to celebrate this milestone, Dawn's question also put into sharp relief how little many lawmakers have to say about many of the challenges facing the deaf community. Now with a general election just around the corner, it will be interesting to see how all politically parties respond to the very real issues faced by the deaf community.

A key area that has been getting a lot of local attention, but that is all but ignored by policymakers nationally, is the scandal of quality in children's audiology services.

Audiologists, hearing specialists in hospitals and health centres, are a vital lifeline for the 45,000 deaf children in the UK. They are gatekeepers to a child's access to spoken language through their hearing, ensuring they get the support to which they are entitled. Being misdiagnosed, diagnosed too late, given ill-fitting hearing aids or outdated advice can all have serious repercussions.

With the right support, deaf children can do anything their hearing friends can. Without good audiology support, their language and communication skills can suffer and their wider development can be delayed. These problems are often overlooked because they're not life or death issues - but deaf children's quality of life and development into adulthood can be damaged hugely.

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The National Deaf Children's Society's new report 'The health of children's hearing services in England'

Against this backdrop, the Government abolished mandatory inspections of children's audiology services in 2012. Every deaf child has the right to the best possible audiology service. But for the past five years, parents simply do not know whether they are receiving world-beating care, or a substandard service.

Some of the parents we have talked to paint a bleak picture. A mum in London told us she had to sellotape her son's hearing aids to his head because of mistakes and delays by her audiologist. Another talked about how she broke down crying on the phone to her hospital because waiting times were so long. Another parent was told it would take at least 100 days before they could even consider putting their child on the audiology waiting list. This is more than twice the Government target. For a deaf child, who will already struggle to pick up crucial language skills, 100 days is simply too long to wait.

You wouldn't dream of sending your child to a school that had not been Ofsted inspected. You wouldn't get into a car with your children that had not passed an MOT test. But this Government feels that the vital audiology services on which 45,000 deaf children rely, are fine to be unchecked, uninspected, and it has no idea if they are any good or not.

When the Government scrapped inspections, they were replaced with an optional accreditation scheme. Newly published research shows that, unsurprisingly, 85% of children's audiology services haven't been inspected since 2012. For parents up and down the county, they do not know if their children are getting the support they need.

This means families across the country have been left in the dark. Not being accredited doesn't mean hospitals and audiologists are failing, but it does mean they are an unknown quantity. At the moment, it is a postcode lottery for parents and this has to stop.

While it is great to see sign language being used in Parliament, I say to all MPs and to all those candidates now standing for election, there is so much work still to be done.

Children's audiology may not be at the top of the political agenda but mandatory inspections of quality are absolutely essential. This simple change could make a huge difference to ensuring thousands of deaf children get the right support, right from the start.