Parents sue after test failures leave children with hearing difficulties

At least a dozen families seeking compensation over audit that identified serious problems at NHS Lothian's hearing service.

Parents sue after NHS Lothian test failures leave children with hearing difficulties iStock

More than a dozen families are suing NHS Lothian after a report identified “significant concerns” at the health board’s hearing service for children.

An audit of the health board’s services found significant failures in 155 of the 1113 patients treated between 2009 and 2018, which led to children being identified as deaf years later than they should have.

NHS Lothian apologised following the publication of the report last December.

The Scottish Government later confirmed NHS Lothian had been escalated to stage three of the NHS Board Performance Escalation Framework for paediatric audiology performance and service delivery.

Jonathan Howat, a senior lawyer with Thompsons Solicitors, is representing a number of families whose children have been affected by the scandal and are now seeking compensation.

He said: “The wards and the other families I represent have been treated disgracefully by NHS Lothian. As a result of delays in identifying and treating hearing impairments, the lives of many children have been made    significantly more challenging.

“Our legal action against the health board will make sure that these children and their families are properly compensated.”

The British Academy of Audiology report identified significant concerns about hearing tests that were not carried out to the required professional standard, with consequences for children and their families.

It said failings in the standard of hearing tests had “adversely impacted the early years spoken language acquisition of numerous children, affecting a number of these children for life.”

In some cases, diagnosis of hearing loss or impairment may have been missed or delayed.

Among the failures, it highlighted five children who were not suitable for cochlear implantation due to delays in hearing loss identification, as well as two children who were assessed as normal by NHS Lothian but then referred for cochlear implantation.

The report identified a further five children who had their cochlear implantation delayed due to a delay in hearing loss identification and 49 children where “identification and management of a hearing loss was significantly delayed”.

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that may help someone with hearing loss restore or improve the ability to hear and understand speech.

Tracey Gillies, medical director NHS Lothian, said: “We continue to implement the recommendations of the review, reporting directly to Scottish Government on our progress. 

Once again, we apologise sincerely to all affected children and their families for the failings identified by the review, and for the worry and distress caused.

Tracey Gillies, medical director at NHS Lothian

“Once again, we apologise sincerely to all affected children and their families for the failings identified by the review, and for the worry and distress caused.”

NHS Lothian commissioned a full, external review of the service following criticism in May about the diagnosis and care of a child with hearing difficulties.

The review was part of the health board’s response to the recommendations made by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman who investigated that case.

It consisted of an audit of cases from 2009-2018, an appraisal of the clinical governance structures in place, as well as a week’s residential visit by external experts to observe working practices in the service.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “It would not be appropriate to discuss individual claims for compensation, however, the families affected should be in no doubt as to how seriously we regard this matter.

“That’s why we are establishing a National Audiology Review to examine hearing services provided to children and adults in health boards across Scotland and make recommendations on improvements.

“And, working in partnership with NHS Lothian, we have ensured significant progress has already been made on the most urgent actions to improve the service since December last year.

“We have liaised closely with the National Deaf Children’s Society (NDCS) to discuss how events in NHS Lothian should lead to improved practice and public confidence, and improving data collection will be a key area for improvement work.”

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