Senator Fidelma Healy Eames says there has been no full-time audiological scientist in the area since 2002.
She claims the HSE has provided only a “limited and inadequate” service during this time using visiting qualified scientists for three to four sessions per month to assess the children.
“The current waiting list is for almost 1,300 deaf children who are waiting for their first assessment and review. Clearly, this is unacceptable.”
The Oranmore Fine Gael senator, who raised the issue in the Seanad on Tuesday night, said the HSE has tried to fill the position over the years but to no avail. The failure to fill the post is believed to be due to a shortage of suitably qualified candidates.
“The last time it was advertised was early 2009 and at that point four candidates were invited to interview. Two withdrew for personal reasons but two were waiting to be interviewed when the embargo on recruitment was implemented and their interviews were cancelled. Should an embargo have been applied in this case? I would say ‘No’.
“By November 2009, the HSE was unable to meet its commitment to provide even a locum service thus leaving the deaf children of Galway without any service for hearing tests, moulds or upgrading of hearing aids. Parents have had to source moulds and testing elsewhere in the country with great difficulty.
“In March 2010 parents of hearing impaired children in Galway re-formed a campaign to fight again for a service for their children. The parents felt it was important to stand up for their children’s rights. As parents they were in a position to know the services they needed for their children to help them develop socially and help develop their speech and language skills and give them access to a good education. In order for this to happen, children need to have full facilities provided by the HSE. They are entitled to a free audiological service until they are 18. The biggest stumbling block in the campaign for a better service is the continued lack of a senior audiological scientist in Galway.”
She said the HSE interviewed a candidate for the post earlier this week. “Has the HSE found a suitable candidate? If so, has he or she been ring-fenced for Galway which has been so neglected for a long time and which is now at crisis point given that nearly 1,300 children are waiting to be seen? It is a daunting task for one audiologist to try to diagnose and meet the ongoing treatment needs of 1,300 children. Without this very basic and essential service, deaf children are being further disabled by this State.”
Replying to Senator Healy Eames on behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Conor Lenihan said the HSE secured the services of two sessional audiological scientists to provide a limited service from August 2008 to November 2009 and from May 2010 to the present.
“Strenuous efforts have been made to appoint an audiological scientist to address the needs of hearing-impaired children under the age of five years. In spite of repeated attempts to recruit someone with the appropriate qualifications, the HSE has been unsuccessful due to a scarcity of suitably qualified candidates.
“The HSE is extremely conscious that the initial assessment and review of children is vital to ensure that they have the appropriate interventions and aids required for linguistic development and, as a consequence, improved social skills and educational capacity. The HSE has been granted a derogation from the public sector moratorium on recruitment in respect of this post and is at present in the process of recruiting a directly employed audiological scientist.”
Interviews for the post were held on December 13. Subject to a successful candidate being recommended the panel will take effect on December 20.
“In the best-case scenario it would take a few weeks to have the person in post. For example, a candidate from overseas may require a work permit, overseas police clearances and outside references. We are making progress on the matter and I hope a suitable person will be recommended by the interview panel.”
By Mary O’connor