OPINION: The failings of a former Southern District Health Board audiologist were less a disgrace than the abject lack of oversight from the board itself.
The audiologist, identified only as Mr B, was working in an under-educated, under-resourced silo of isolation. And nobody in this sorry story was more profoundly deaf than the board itself, which could detect not a peep of concern anywhere.
Not that it went out of its way to listen out for one. Far from it. Health and Disability deputy commissioner Theodora Baker's report notes the board was "unable to find any documented evidence" of an objective process to assess Mr B's clinical competence before a review in October 2010. Performance reviews were not carried out in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009. The board could not say why because the managers responsible were no longer employed there.
This would have been disgraceful enough had Mr B at least been impressively qualified. He most certainly was not. Audiologists, once ensconced, are not legally required to have an annual practising certificate or undertake any competence programmes. Mr B had a diploma qualification and had been an associate member of the New Zealand Audiological Society, but to become a full member would have required the supervision of a full member and his charge audiologist had declined to act in this role.
The bitter irony here is that the superior regarded the society's standards as inadequate and proposed higher ones. Whereupon, he unhelpfully left. Mr B tried to arrange supervision from a full member based elsewhere, but his board balked at the costs.
The upshot was Mr B was sole-charge audiologist at the hospital, even though his associate membership had lapsed from, once again, lack of supervision. He kept up as best he could, from the internet.
Terrible. Tinklings of alarm did finally register with the board and one result of the review completed in 2010 was that Mr B's position was, as they say, disestablished. Something markedly better resourced has replaced it, mind you. There is now a society-certified fulltime audiologist and two part-time certified audiologists, who are working with better equipment and protocols. The disabilities commissioner wants more detail about all this, and rightly so. Otherwise, that's that? A recent audit had good results. So all fixed, then?
Depends who you ask. Of the 1532 children who were aged under 5 when Mr B tested them, 123 came forward for retesting. One other child was found to have significant hearing loss and five others needed further testing.
Just how many others have been poorly served is unclear. But a worthy focus of attention is the heart-rending case of Master A, a 12-year-old boy whose speech, language, literacy development, cognitive and social development have suffered from those constant medical denials resulting from five stuffed-up tests over the course of a decade - and this in spite of a chorus of protestations from family, teachers and doctors that the poor kid was clearly lip-reading. In his own distressed world, the little boy had been unco-operative in testing, though the methodology being used was clearly inadequate for his needs.
Mr B is no longer working in audiology and the deputy commissioner recommends further training and supervision before he ever does. The matter is being referred to the director of proceedings to consider legal action. The director has plenty to think about.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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