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“Do the right thing” – Provision of bilateral cochlear implants must be included in HSE 2014 Service Plan – Ó Caoláin

17 October, 2013 - by Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD

Speaking today in the Dáil on the Sinn Féin private members bill on the issue of bilateral cochlear implants, Sinn Féin spokesperson on health and children, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, described his disappointment in the government’s decision not to accept the motion and as regrettable that “the Minister’s amendment did fully not recognise the vital importance of bilateral cochlear implants”.

Below is the full text of Deputy Ó Caoláin’s speech.

Gabhaim buíochas le gach Teachta a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht tábhachtach seo. Gabhaim buíochas ach go háirithe leis na tuismitheoirí atá linn inniú agus molaim iad as an feachtas atá ar siúl acu agus tá súil agam go neireoidh leis go luath.

I thank all the Deputies who have taken part in this debate. I want to especially acknowledge and thank once again the Happy New Ear campaign and the parents of children requiring bi-lateral cochlear implants who have joined us here for this debate today.

We hope this motion, this debate and this sincere appeal to Government will mark a very significant step towards the early and full achievement of your goal – the gift of hearing for your children and for countless other children in Ireland in the future.

Many complex and complicated issues come before this Dáil on a weekly basis – none more so than the Budget that was announced on Tuesday.

But this is a very straightforward and simple issue. It is not complicated. It is not complex. There are no conflicting arguments about the benefits of bilateral cochlear implants. Children need this operation and they need it now. There is no question about that.

I regret the fact that the Minister for Health did not accept the motion. He chose to amend it. I will deal now with the Minister’s amendment.

The first part re-states the current position regarding Audiology and quite rightly commends the work being done in Beaumont Hospital on cochlear implants for both children and adults.

The last part of the Minister’s amendment is apparently irrelevant as it talks about the new National Children’s Hospital and the National Clinical Programme in Paediatrics and Neonatology.

I say ‘apparently’ irrelevant, because I have a serious concern at the presence of those points. I hope it is not being suggested in any way by the Minister that the provision of bilateral cochlear implants for children might have to await the completion of the new National Children’s Hospital. That would be totally unacceptable.

The substance of the Minister’s amendment recognises that the report of the National Audiology Review Group recommended bilateral implants. It notes that initial estimates of the additional resources required are being examined in relation to the model of care and costings. That, unfortunately, is as far as the Minister goes in his amendment.

It is most regrettable that the Minister’s amendment does not fully recognise the vital importance of bilateral cochlear implants. He should at least have recognised the worry, concern and, indeed, anguish of parents who see that the clock is ticking and that if these operations are not made available as soon as possible, it will be too late for many children to benefit from them.

I want to summarise once again the case we have made and put it to the Minister and the Government.

Thanks to the Happy New Ear Campaign, it is now widely known that children in this State who receive cochlear implants receive one, rather than two implants. The provision of two implants is accepted as best practice internationally. 

The case is best made by the parents of these children and I want to read into the record just one testimony from a parent. She writes: 

Our beautiful daughter Taylor Beth is now 2 and half years old. She has the biggest green eyes you have ever seen and can tell you in a blink exactly what she wants! It’s just as well she can do this as Taylor can’t speak yet. She was born profoundly deaf and due to a late diagnosis, 19 months had passed without her hearing a sound. She began using sign language shortly after her diagnosis and to date has just short of 200 signs. Even though she hasn’t found her voice yet, this is one little lady who can still put you in your place!
Thankfully Taylor was given the gift of hearing in November 2012 and since then has come on leaps and bounds. In these 2 short months she has started babbling like any hearing baby would start off and has finally turned to her name!! It truly is a miracle. There is a downside however...
Our daughter is exhausted in the evenings as her little brain has had to work so hard to process all the sound coming in through just one ear. With the aid of a second implant this wouldn’t be the case. Why should our children miss out on their childhood because they are too exhausted to go and play after school? Or not know in which direction that phone is ringing - all because there isn’t enough funding. These are simple little things to us but to her and the other children this could be life changing. 

Please share our story and help us in the fight to gain bilateral implants for our little ones. We were all given two ears to hear – give these children what is rightfully theirs.

It has been estimated that the cost of a single implant is between €18,000 and €20,000. The estimated annual cost to put this in place for all the children who need it is €12.8 million. 

There are approximately 200 children who would benefit from the immediate introduction of a bilateral cochlear implant programme. 

The core problem is that as the child grows the nerves to which the implant should be connected die if they are not being used. The hope of a further implant is lost. However this anguish for parents and children can be avoided. This is an issue which can be resolved. The solution exists and is best practice in other States. The amount of money involved is relatively small, even in these straitened times. All that is required is the political will.

The money can be found.

At the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee this morning I asked the Minister for Health James Reilly to provide for bilateral cochlear implants. He said he has made it one of his priorities. But he went on to cite scarce resources. Minister of State Kathleen Lynch did the same during the course of this debate.

In a letter to Deputy Gerry Adams in July 2013 the Minister for Health sounded a much more positive note and stated that the proposal for the development of a bilateral cochlear implant programme for Beaumont Hospital would be submitted as part of the HSE estimates process.

I regret to note that the tone from Ministers Reilly and Lynch today was less positive than in Minister Reilly’s July letter. Trying to read between the lines of their speeches today, I sincerely hope that it is not the case that this plan was submitted as part of the pre-Budget estimates process but rejected at that stage.

But even if that is the case the Government can, if it has the political will, make the bilateral cochlear implant programme happen in 2014.

Governments have to be called to account. Political pressure has to be applied to ensure that they do the right thing. So I take with a pinch of salt Minister Lynch’s statement in her speech today that this motion would have been better timed after the HSE Service Plan is published. On the contrary, that would be too late.

Minister of State Lynch also said that she and Minister Reilly are fighting their corner on this issue. If that is so then the motion reinforces their case and I certainly hope they use it to ensure that the funding is made available and that the rights of these children are vindicated.

On the Oireachtas Health & Children Committee there is unanimous support for this case. On my proposal the Committee wrote to Minister Reilly on 11 October appealing to him and to the Government “to commit  to provide the necessary resources to allow for the full roll-out of the Bilateral Cochlear Implant Programme during 2014”.

The choice before Health Minister James Reilly and Minister of State Kathleen Lynch and this Government is very clear. They must require the Health Service Executive to include the provision of bilateral cochlear implants in its Service Plan for 2014 and they must provide the resources for it to do so. That plan is being put together as we speak. It will be finalised in the coming weeks. It MUST include the bilateral cochlear implant programme.

In one of the pre-Budget briefings, a parent of a child with a disability asked a very striking question and I want to conclude with it. She asked:

“How much longer are these children of austerity going to have to fight these battles?”

No child should have to fight such a battle.

For the sake of these children – do the right thing.

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