​NHS Lothian Audiology Services in crisis - Miles Briggs

Readers will be acutely aware of the ongoing scandal surrounding major failings in audiology services in NHS Lothian which resulted in the failure to identify early babies and children with hearing loss during the period 2009–21.
Miles Briggs MSPMiles Briggs MSP
Miles Briggs MSP

This is an issue on which I and MSPs from all parties have been jointly working with local families to seek answers and make sure that the children and families affected are not forgotten.

NHS Lothian recently published a report an independent review, commissioned by the Scottish Government, which revealed that multiple, systematic problems were found in Scotland’s audiology services.

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It has now been two years since major failings in audiology services across NHS Lothian came to light following a report that showed children with profound hearing loss being misidentified as having hearing, along with various other misdiagnoses.

An audit found significant failuresAn audit found significant failures
An audit found significant failures

Since then 162 children have been found to have speech and communication issues related to delays in diagnosis and management. In total, it is thought that up to 23,000 children were at risk due to substandard hearing tests and significant failures in audiology services.

This is a heartbreaking failure to help some of our most vulnerable young people. There is no reason why children with hearing loss cannot succeed where other children can, but it is vital that they get the support and part of that is identifying hearing issues at the earliest opportunity.

Professor Jacqueline Taylor, who led the review, identified a lack of strategic planning, poor quality assurance of services and staff training and an absence of national oversight and responsibility as key areas of failure.

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This all sounds far too familiar for those of us who have watched NHS Lothian and other health boards across the country suffer under years of mismanagement from SNP-Green Ministers in charge and here in Lothian the systemic underfunding of local health services.

If the findings in the report seem familiar to the First Minister, then that shouldn’t come as a surprise, given he presided over many of these failures during his time as Health Secretary.

It is now clear that many families will be seeking compensation to help support their children and NHS Lothian, could be hit by one of Scotland’s biggest ever compensation cases – to the tune of £1 billion to settle compensation claims.

At First Minister’s Questions this week I asked what support the Scottish Government is offering to NHS Lothian to undertake a wider review and make contact with the parents and guardians of the over 23,000 children who reportedly may have received substandard testing to identify hearing loss, including support to identify any other young children who have not received the required standard of auditory brainstem response testing.

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If SNP and Green Ministers are serious about improving Scotland’s health service, the warnings of this report need to be heeded and proper support needs to be offered. This response requires leadership, vision, and accountability.

The next step should be a simple one. At the very least, more funding needs to be put into staff training to ensure that this kind of tragedy doesn’t occur again, and the Scottish Government must ensure that all children affected in Lothian are afforded the specialist help they need in order to realise their potential.

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