Probe into hearing expert's work will now involve 1,000 children
A probe into an audiologist who left children with severe hearing problems struggling to learn and be understood is to be extended with a review involving 1,000 youngsters.
An audit of the audiologist's work in Mayo and Roscommon has already uncovered 49 children who received sub-standard care including delayed hearing loss diagnosis and incorrectly fitted hearing aids.
However, the Irish Independent has learned of a similar review of around 1,000 children seen by the same audiologist in South Tipperary, Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford and Wexford.
The audiologist is being blamed for failing to pick up deafness in young children who in some cases were left mute, suffering developmental setbacks while unable to socialise or avail of full education.
The HSE said yesterday that 13 of the children in the western counties had to be re-referred to the service and tested before their hearing loss was diagnosed.
Another 16 children had hearing aids which were not correctly fitted and 20 were called back and found to have a "new hearing loss".
The audiologist had been employed by the HSE from 2011 to 2015 to help clear waiting lists and was seeing as many as 20 patients a day.
The individual concerned is no longer working in the HSE but continues to practise at a senior level outside the State.
The HSE said the audit of hundreds of cases had been ordered after it appointed a HSE Assistant Clinical Lead in audiology.
The audit highlighted a range of serious issues including a lack of proper supervision and poor record-keeping.
"The HSE reiterates its sincere apology to those affected. The 49 children were prioritised and have already received treatment or are in treatment," said the spokeswoman.
Dr Gary Norman the HSE's national lead for audiology, said: "It is very clear from the look-back review that paediatric audiology services should have been providing a full diagnostic assessment service and hearing-aid management service in line with national standards since 2011.
"We know that identifying hearing loss late, or the ineffective management of hearing aids, can cause children problems with their speech and language development, behaviour, as well as affect their academic ability and social skills.
"The HSE has offered and continues to make available individual management care plans, information and support to the families of these patients."
Tony Canavan, chief officer in community healthcare in the west, said that he acknowledged some children had been affected due to shortcomings within the service at that time.
"Children were identified early on in the process and shortcomings discussed with parents," he said.
Commenting on the findings, Brendan Lennon, director of advocacy in the support group DeafHear, said what had happened was a "legacy of bad planning and poorly resourcing the service.
"It meant there were major gaps in the service."
Health Minister Simon Harris said: "I think it's appropriate that the health service has carried out a look-back review in relation to child audiology tests.
"Obviously, when you look back you do sadly find errors."
He added: "It's important when you find those errors the health service apologises but more importantly swift action is taken to support the people impacted."