The HSE has come under fire this week for cutting funding for the deaf. Its annual budget for Audiology Services in the South East has run out mid-year and there is no more funding forthcoming until 2009.
This has come about, says Maureen Whittle, Team Leader of DeafHear.ie in the region, despite reassurances from the HSE that frontline services would be maintained at the same level as 2007.
The cut in funding applies to both adult and paediatric services. With the central budget now depleted, local health managers in the four Community Care areas have been asked to make extra funds available to ensure continuity of a full service. To date, this has not happened, resulting in an extremely limited service for clients in the region.
Last year, the budget for Audiology Services in the region was used up by November. At that time, the HSE took up the slack and provided adequate funding to the end of the year. However, the additional funding used to alleviate the inadequate 2007 budget was then deducted from the 2008 allocation! Having started with a deficit in 2008, funding for the service has consequently depleted six months earlier, running out by the end of June.
Since then, Audiology Services have taken on no new clients and this seems set to continue unless the badly needed extra funding becomes available. Prior to this latest blow, says Ms Whittle, the service in the region was already operating well below par with only 2 audiologists covering the four Community Care areas – Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny/Carlow and Tipperary South. Realistically, to provide an efficient service, an audiologist is needed for each CC area.
Audiology Services have long struggled with lengthy waiting lists, a well recognised ongoing problem in the South East for many years now. But with the current cut in funding those waiting lists are destined to become steadily longer. “This is seriously detrimental to the welfare of deaf and hard of hearing people who require an ongoing audiology service of quality and also the beleaguered professional audiologists”, Ms Whittle complained.
She added: “It’s both unfortunate and incomprehensible that the HSE has not only ignored the under-funding experienced in 2007 but has doubly penalised deaf and hard of hearing people by implementing further, more extensive cuts to the service in 2008. This undermines a sensory disabled group which represents some 17% of the Irish population”.