07 August 2023

Thousands of deaf babies may have been failed by the NHS

Liam May Senior Associate
Baby having a hearing test

An urgent review into hearing services for children was launched in June 2023, following claims of possible audiology testing errors in UK hospitals.

The review was brought about after an inquiry into the faults of the NHS Lothian health board. This inquiry found that children were unable to receive implants needed due to late diagnoses.

Some areas of England were found to have a notably lower diagnosis rate of baby hearing issues, after health officials looked at the records of children born since 2018. The National Deaf Children’s Society has expressed concern that more children born before 2018 could have been affected.

Five NHS hospitals were identified as failing to carry out appropriate testing, including Diana Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby and the Scunthorpe General Hospital. The audiology departments of these two NHS hospitals were closed after it was found that children were wrongly given the all-clear after testing errors. Further concerns raised included:

  • Improper analysis of the testing of children’s hearing

  • Inadequate training or supervision of staff

  • Failures to follow clinical guidelines

According to the Daily Mail, Dr Kate Wood, Chief Medical Officer at Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust, had the following to say:

“We are reviewing our paediatric audiology service and have temporarily suspended ABR testing after a review of patient results showed some of them have been misinterpreted …

“We are working with an external team of specialist audiologists to determine whether children need to have their hearing retested. A number of children have been recalled for testing – some of these will be offered a test at one of our clinics by a professional from another hospital, but we have also identified other hospitals where these patients can be tested and will pay for travel for these patients and their families or carers where that is required.”

Children that do not have their hearing adequately assessed at the appropriate time may face a significant delay in treatment and support. These errors could result in it being too late for a child to undergo cochlear implant surgery and may even cause permanent impact on speech and language.

When something goes wrong, hospitals are under a statutory duty of care (called the “duty of candour”) whereby they must be open and honest with patients and their families. This means hospitals must declare when medical care may have caused or contributed to unnecessary injury, and where it may have exposed someone to significant harm in the future.

If you think your child may have been affected by the errors of the audiology teams at either Grimsby or Scunthorpe Hospital, we strongly urge you to seek advice as soon as possible. Get in touch with our specialist medical negligence team to explore the options available.

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