Our growing need for audio specialists isn’t being heard
By Eilish O’Regan
Monday June 15 2009
Adults and children with hearing problems are facing average delays of 10 months or more to see a specialist, new figures reveal. The specialists they need to see are audiologists, who identify, diagnose and treat hearing problems.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) revealed there were just 34 community audiologists employed to cater for the growing needs of the public.
The largest category of those waiting 10 months or more for an appointment are children aged between four and 18. However, 45 children under four years are facing similar waits, as are 30 adults, according to the figures.
The earlier a child is tested the better the chance of diagnosing a hearing problem and putting in place a programme to ensure they get the best opportunity to develop communication skills.
They may need to be referred on to an ear, nose and throat specialist or recommended for special education for the deaf.
Adults who see an audiologist will have a hearing test called audiometry — the patient wears headphones which play sounds of different tones and volumes.
Each time the person hears a sound they will be asked to make a signal, usually by raising his/her hand or by pressing a button.
An audiologist will also check how the patient hears words spoken at different volumes. They are asked to listen to words spoken at different volumes, and then to repeat what they have heard.
The next step, once an adult or child is assessed by an audiologist, is to be fitted with a hearing aid if they need it.
The HSE figures show there is no delay for a hearing-aid fit for children although adults can face delays of several months.
Problems arise again for those who have been through the system but are in need of a review, particularly for adults and children over four years of age.
Senior HSE official Brian Murphy said the service was facing significant demands and pointed to research in the UK showing that between the ages of 71 and 80, as many as 82pc of people have some degree of hearing impairment.
“Given our ageing population, our service will be expected to meet a greatly increased demand from that age group.”
In a parliamentary reply to Fine Gael’s Tom Hayes, he pointed to difficulties in recruiting suitably qualified audiologists in some parts of the country.
In Galway, a search for an audiology scientist has been under way for three years due to a lack of suitable candidates.
A review of audiology needs is currently under way and this will feed into a national plan for the service. “It is intended that this will result in a considerable improvement in waiting lists,” Mr Murphy suggested.
– Eilish O’Regan