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NHS England review of children’s audiology services

Published Date: 13 Dec 2023

Following issues going back a number of years in an audiology service in Scotland, NHS England has looked into whether there might be similar problems in England. Here we set out what they’ve found, what’s happening now and what you can do if you think your family may be affected.

What’s happened?

NHS England has found that there are significant issues affecting children’s audiology services that are common across the country. At least seven children’s audiology services are now known to have issues with the quality of their audiology testing, and these are being investigated and managed by each service’s local Integrated Care Board (ICBs).

As NHS England continue to investigate, it’s likely they will find issues in other services as well.

All babies born in the UK are offered routine hearing screening which is very effective at identifying those babies that are more likely to have a hearing loss. These babies will then be referred for a specialist hearing test.

However, some of the problems identified are with the way that these specialist hearing tests have been performed. As a result, some families have been told incorrectly that their child does not have a hearing loss.

NHS trusts will be contacting families who may have been affected by these issues in the areas where concerns have been identified. Some babies and children may be recalled for additional testing and new referrals may be temporarily signposted to alternative services until improvements have been made.

Most of the children offered a retest are unlikely to have hearing loss. However, it’s important to attend a retest to confirm if this is the case.

What is the impact?

For some children, deafness has not been identified as early as it should have been.

This means that some families have not had the support they need, particularly around language and communication, for many years. As a result, a child’s language may not have developed as it would have otherwise.

It’s very important that any type and level of deafness is identified as early as possible, so that children get the support they need, right from the start.

What is NHS England doing now?

NHS England has formed working groups looking at what needs to be done to improve the quality of children’s audiology services, including the support that’s needed for audiology services and improvements in training.

One of the important things that NHS England has done is send some recommendations to all Integrated Care Boards (ICBs) in England. ICBs are responsible for all health services in your area, and they have been asked to start implementing the recommendations immediately.

ICBs have been asked to work with their providers of children’s audiology services to collect evidence about the quality of their services and to produce an overview report, including areas where there are risks of poor quality.

ICBs are required to report to a Regional Quality Group and regularly update on their progress with recommended actions, risks and updated action plans.

What is the National Deaf Children’s Society doing?

We’ve been working closely with NHS England on its improvement programme.

We’re also monitoring what’s happening in the areas of concern and providing support and challenge to ICBs and NHS trusts.

In many areas, Children’s Hearing Services Working Groups (CHSWGs) will be discussing this issue. We have produced a briefing for CHSWGs (PDF) to help them do so.

What should I do if I’m worried my child has been affected?

Families will be contacted by their local NHS trust if they have been identified as being at risk of being affected by this issue.

However, if you’re worried that your child has been affected, you’re advised to first contact your local audiology department or talk to your GP or health visitor.

If you think you may have been affected by this situation and would like to talk through your concerns, contact our Helpline for tailored support and guidance.

If your child has been affected, you might be able to pursue a clinical negligence claim. We strongly advise families to seek independent specialist legal advice if they are concerned about medical negligence.