There is a continuing lack of access to basic therapeutic services for thousands of children in this state. This is not only manifestly unjust, it is also a betrayal of enormous proportions.
Indeed, the tragic reality is this; the problems being faced by some of these children now will almost inevitably lead to unnecessary levels of deterioration as well as to levels of educational disadvantage that were entirely preventable.
This is particularly true of deaf children.
I have been contacted by one such family who have spoken of their utter desperation at the effective removal of audiology and hearing test services within the HSE that has been ongoing over the last number of months.
This family and the challenges that they and their deaf son are confronted with are representative of thousands of others. It must end.
We know from Freedom of Request data issued in April that more than 1,100 children with hearing problems have been waiting for over a year to see a specialist, while almost 1,700 adults have also faced a 12-month wait to see an audiologist. In total there are 7,100 children waiting for an appointment.
Those figures are a terrible indictment of a health service with a €16 billion budget.
At present, a significant number of these children are in immediate need of what is called an audiology review.
The review is where the audiologist can investigate if the input ‘settings,’ on a deaf child’s hearing aid need to be revised in order for them to access greater levels of conversational level speech or other sounds on the hearing spectrum.
If this does not happen then the child’s level of hearing, which may have deteriorated since the last review, becomes stuck at a level that denies them access to, and participation in, conversation with their family, school and friends.
This is heart-breaking for many parents and profoundly frustrating for the children.
This is the situation being faced right now by thousands of families trying to access HSE
Audiology services throughout the state. Indeed, they cannot even get an indicative appointment.
The reason they are closed relates to Covid-19. But this in itself is simply not a sufficient justification for the continuing denial of service.
Because even Specsavers are currently providing eye tests and allowing appointments to be made. If Specsavers can do this safely and responsibly then why is it beyond the reach of the HSE not to do likewise?
Deaf children and their families are effectively being abandoned by a health service that should be moving heaven and earth to prioritise their treatment.
We also need to remember that many deaf children are also being severely impacted by the mandatory wearing of masks. This is because so many of them have come to rely on lip reading as an aid to accessing what is being said by others around them.
I highlight this not to suggest that masks should be avoided, but only to point out one more challenge that these children are faced with in the current environment.
It is genuinely frustrating to consider that within the HSE, what we appear to have is a persistent and chronic lack of imagination in terms of trying to open up vitally needed audiology services.
Surely our children deserve better than this?