Otago Association for Deaf Children co-secretaries Peg
Makinson (left) and Barbara O'Neill tried to raise concern
about Dunedin Hospital's audiology department. Photo by
The Otago Association for Deaf Children lobbied Dunedin
Hospital management and the former Otago District Health Board
for improvements to audiology, but was frustrated when its
concerns were largely ignored.
Co-secretary Barbara O'Neill said yesterday the Deputy Health
and Disability Commissioner's report released last week into
failings in one boy's care rekindled anger and frustration
felt by many parents over many years.
''There are so many people traumatised out there.''
Theo Baker found the health board and the audiologist
breached the patient rights code because of a delay in
diagnosing the boy's moderate to profound hearing loss.
He was tested five times over 11 years with no diagnosis.
The association is still concerned that, despite
improvements, audiology is not resourced well enough, given
the service now covers Otago and Southland.
The association wrote to the board in 2005, following up in
subsequent years, expressing concern at the lack of progress.
The average age of diagnosis in Otago was high by New Zealand
standards, and the country's average diagnosis rate was
itself ''abysmal'', Mrs O'Neill said.
The association had also been concerned about the lack of
support for the sole charge audiologist, and the standard of
The audiologist was not a member of the New Zealand
Audiological Society, which the board told the deputy
commissioner was ''principally'' the cause of the issues.
This meant the board had an uncertified audiologist for about
25 years, Mrs O'Neill said.
Mrs O'Neill and association co-secretary Peg Makinson said
yesterday the department's shortcomings were well known for
years throughout the sector.
''I would write a letter, and then I would telephone, email,
telephone, email ... '' Mrs Makinson said.
There would be long delays in securing meetings.
Frequent changes in management compounded the problem.
At one stage, the board showed it had reduced waiting times
for assessments, yet this was not the central problem.
Parents who understood the system (often because they had
other deaf members in the family) sought diagnosis at another
Parents had the right to a decent service, and should not
need to push their way through the system, Mrs O'Neill said.
The situation strained some relationships, because mothers
and fathers often differed on whether their child had a
hearing problem, or was just ''naughty'', Mrs Makinson said.
''There is so much stress develops. You get unsure of
yourself,'' Mrs O'Neill said.
Feedback from association parents in recent days indicated
they were concerned the board did not retest enough children
when the problem became known.
The board offered retesting to children seen between 2007 and
2010. Many parents did not complain once they finally had a
diagnosis, because they needed to focus their energy on their
child, Mrs O'Neill said.
In response, patient services medical director Richard Bunton
said in a statement yesterday the board would contact the
association to discuss its concerns.
''The DHB has acknowledged there were deficiencies in the
level of audiology services provided and has worked hard to
rectify those issues so that we now have a service that has
been commended and that the community can have confidence
in,'' Mr Bunton said.
The retesting period was set to catch those who would not
have been screened through another avenue, such as the B4
School Checks, he said.
''However, as we have said previously, if there are any
parents who have concerns about their child's hearing or the
testing they received, we encourage them to contact the DHB.
''The audiology team are all NZAS-certified audiologists. It
includes one full-time and two part-time audiologists.
''Following other improvements to the service, better
equipment, more efficient booking and prioritisation
processes, the team is well supported to provide a
high-quality service across the district.''
The Health and Disability Commissioner's director of
proceedings is reviewing the matter, and may take the
audiologist and/or the health board to the Human Rights