Medical Negligence

Warning that deafness in ‘hundreds, if not thousands’ of children has not been correctly identified

Accident and Emergency

Maria Repanos

Head of Clinical Negligence (Manchester)

7 min read time
29 Jun 2023

The National Deaf Children’s Society is warning that “hundreds, if not thousands,” of children across England may have been left permanently damaged due to potential failings in NHS audiology services.

The charity is now calling for ‘fresh assessments’ to be carried out nationally after “the appalling situation,” revealed in The Times newspaper, suggests many child hearing issues are not being appropriately identified.

Failure to diagnose and treat hearing loss early can significantly affect a child’s speech and language development permanently.

Five NHS hospitals in England have been identified as failing to carry out appropriate testing, they are:

  • East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust
    Lister Hospital
  • Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust
    Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital, Grimsby
    Scunthorpe General Hospital
  • North West Anglia NHS Foundation Trust
    Hinchingbrooke Hospital
  • Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Trust
    Warrington Hospital

Many more hospitals and Trusts could still be affected, including Croydon University Hospital and Worcestershire Royal Hospital, which have launched child patient recalls.

Audiology experts believe there is an ongoing national failure, dating back to 2013, when a decision was made by the government to cease reviews of hospital performance.

NHS England has now ordered all hospitals to carry out an urgent review of their services.


Why early hearing tests are important

If a young child does not have their hearing correctly assessed at an appropriate time, it could result in:

  • a significant delay in treatment
  • being too late to undergo cochlear implant surgery
  • permanent impact on speech and language
  • children and their families not receiving appropriate support

As medical negligence solicitors, we fully understand that if a child misses the opportunity to have cochlear implants while pre-lingual – before they begin to talk – at around 18 months old, their speech and language will almost certainly be permanently impaired.

Having reviewed the National Deaf Children’s Society’s findings from a survey of paediatric audiology services in 2021, we have concerns as it reveals:

  • the number of children referred to services from newborn hearing screening has fallen since 2019 from 15,764 to 10,867
  • 48% of services reported a decline in staffing since 2019

These figures potentially suggest there are children whose hearing issues are not being appropriately treated.

NHS trusts across England are now attempting to trace thousands of children for urgent hearing tests, amid fears that cases of infant deafness may have been missed for several years.

The Times says that at Croydon University Hospital almost 1,500 children were “lost” or misdiagnosed, suggesting they were not appropriately treated and they were not called in for vital appointments. These cases date back to 2012.

England’s newborn hearing screening programme was launched in 2001. When babies fail the screening test they are referred to hospitals for further investigations to identify what help they require.

It is critical that hearing issues in children are identified at the earliest opportunity to aid their development.

What action can be taken if your child’s hearing test was delayed?

If you believe your child’s hearing was impaired at birth or shortly afterwards, and the diagnosis or treatment came too late, or was missed completely, then you may be able to seek an award of compensation.

As well as seeking accountability and justice, compensation can potentially be recovered and subsequently be invested until your child reaches the age of 18.

At Hudgell Solicitors we work with a wide range of medical experts who along with our clinical negligence experts assess our clients’ long-term needs.

The amount of compensation secured reflects these requirements which can include medical treatment, speech and language therapy, equipment, educational needs, as well as the impact on future employment.

We have close relationships with highly experienced ENT (ear, nose and throat) and audiology experts, who can advise on whether your medical negligence claim can move forward.

We can sensitively and thoroughly investigate your case under a ‘No Win, No Fee’ agreement to determine its strength and support you throughout every step of the legal process.

If you have concerns about the time it took to diagnose and treat your child’s hearing loss please get in touch for advice using our online claim form.

Read more: Experts in Child Medical Negligence


Frequently Asked Questions:

Why are child hearing tests important?

Early testing should ensure problems are appropriately diagnosed and managed.

Hearing tests carried out soon after birth can help identify when babies have significant hearing loss, and testing later in childhood can pick up any problems that have been missed or have been slowly getting worse.

Without routine hearing tests, there’s a chance that a hearing problem could go undiagnosed for many months or even years.

It’s important to identify hearing problems as early as possible because they can significantly affect your child’s speech, language development, education and employment.

Treatment is far more effective if any problems are detected and managed accordingly at the earliest opportunity.

An early diagnosis will also help ensure a parent and child have access to special support services.

When should my child’s hearing be checked?

Your child’s hearing should be checked within a few weeks of birth.

This is known as ‘newborn hearing screening’ and it’s often carried out before you leave hospital.

This is routine for all children and even those having a home birth will be invited to come to hospital to have this.

From 9 months to 2.5 years of age – you may be asked whether you have any concerns about your child’s hearing as part of your child’s health and development reviews, and hearing tests can be arranged if necessary.

At around 4 or 5 years old – some children will have a hearing test when they start school, this may be conducted at school or an audiology department depending upon where you live.

Your child’s hearing can also be checked at any other time if you have any concerns. Speak to a GP or health visitor if you’re worried about your child’s hearing.

What causes hearing problems in babies and children?

There are a number of reasons why a child may have a hearing problem, and temporary loss could be due to an illness such as a cold. Other causes include:

  • Glue ear – a build-up of fluid in the middle ear
  • Infections that develop in the womb or at birth, such as rubella (German measles) or cytomegalovirus, which can cause progressive hearing loss
  • Damage as a result of a head injury
  • Being starved of oxygen at birth (birth asphyxia)
  • Illnesses such as meningitis and encephalitis which cause the brain to swell
    Inherited conditions

How can I spot signs of a hearing problem?

In older children, signs of a possible hearing problem can include:

  • inattentiveness or poor concentration
  • not responding to their name
  • talking loudly and listening to the television at a high volume
  • difficulty pinpointing where a sound is coming from
  • mispronouncing words
  • a change in their progress at school

If you’re concerned about your child’s hearing your GP can arrange a hearing test.

What is medical negligence?

Medical negligence is when medical professionals make mistakes or fail in their duty of care, leading to injury or making an existing condition worse.

Medical misdiagnosis or late diagnosis is a potentially a type of clinical negligence that can have life-changing consequences for the individual.

You can make a claim if your child received the wrong diagnosis, if the diagnosis was delayed, or if you weren’t given a diagnosis at all.

We can discuss your experience and evaluate the impact that misdiagnosis or late diagnosis has had on you and your child’s life.

The first step is to get in touch using our online claim form.

From there, we will arrange a free no-obligation consultation which allows you to discuss your experience and the possible options available to you.

Read more: Experts in Child Medical Negligence

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Warning that deafness in ‘hundreds, if not thousands’ of children has not been correctly identified

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