Being told your baby is deaf must be heart-breaking but Tara Thomas is full of praise for the way Swansea Bay’s audiology team has helped her daughter adjust.
The team has just received a glowing quality audit report, and the care provided to Tara’s daughter, Elena, helps to illustrate the quality of their care.
(Above: team members Sally Mora and Tom Ellis)
As with all new babies, Elena was screened for hearing loss shortly after being born in Singleton Hospital in 2018. Unfortunately, the screening results gave cause for concern and the health board’s paediatric audiology team was alerted.
Tara, who is a health board employee herself, said: “Initially they said it could be due to her ears still been a bit congested after delivery, so they gave her a second test the next day, which she also failed.
“We were then told she was deaf in both ears. The correct term is sensorineural hearing loss, which is a permanent loss, one that doesn’t get better but can get worse.”
Having diagnosed the problem, the team quickly set about supporting the family.
Tara said: “She was two weeks old when we found out and she had her first hearing aids at four weeks. We went to the clinic in Sway Road, Morriston, to get them fitted. They showed us how to put them in and how to use them, it was explained all the way, they were just brilliant with Elena.
“The whole team was amazing, they are brilliant. They explained everything that we needed to know. When you first find out that your child is deaf, it’s a massive shock. It’s quite difficult to take everything in.”
The good news is Elena (above) has taken it all in her stride.
“She is doing great,” said Tara. “She started school part-time and her speech is brilliant. She was discharged from speech and language after her first appointment.
“She’s a really good hearing aid wearer. It’s been quite intense for her. Because of my job I know how important they are and have been on top of it from the start.”
A recent quality audit of the service, carried out by Public Health Wales (PHW), found the health board met the compliance targets both overall and for each of the individual standards targeted.
All babies born in Wales are offered newborn hearing screening, by PHW’s Newborn Hearing Screening Wales programme, soon after birth to see if they have a hearing loss that could affect their speech and language development without early support.
If any potential problem is identified, the local health board steps in to offer help.
Sarah Theobald, head of audiology in Swansea Bay, said: “Children who do not pass the screening, or for some reason are not eligible, are referred to us for a hearing assessment.
“We usually see babies from one-day-old to three months. It involves testing hearing, which can be quite a long diagnostic test taking up to two, sometimes, three, hours. It’s carried out while the baby is sleeping.
“What we are looking for is any permanent bilateral significant hearing loss. Hearing loss can affect a child’s speech and language, and social development as they grow.
“We do also pick up temporary hearing losses and hearing loses in one ear, and we will provide advice or manage these as appropriate also.”
Thankfully, only a small percentage of babies are born with hearing loss but for those who are, the team can help.
Sarah said: “The majority of children who come to us after a screen will pass their assessment. It’s only a very small percentage – on average, four children a year – that will be picked up with a permanent bilateral significant hearing loss.
“More will have temporary hearing loss or milder losses or hearing losses in one ear, which still require management and advice but won’t necessarily have lifelong or such a significant impact.
“For children with a permanent bilateral significant hearing loss we will usually offer hearing aids in the first instance, which improves access the sounds that they are not hearing and helps them develop their speech and language, with support.
“For some children a referral for a cochlear implant may be discussed if their hearing loss is severe and hearing aids are not beneficial for them.
“We work very closely with the teachers of the deaf and with community paediatricians, who will look into the cause of the hearing loss. We work as a multiagency team to ensure that we have a plan in place with the parents to do the best for these children.
“The audit also looked at this wider model of how we work together.”
Of the pandemic and stepping in to carry out the screening, as well as the assessments, Sarah said: “A large number of the audiology team were deployed to support the response to the pandemic however the paediatric team who remained in audiology continued to assess the babies referred to us but also carried out screening for the babies that Public Health Wales were unable to see during this time due to changes on the maternity wards and other difficulties.
“We also trained new screeners. We tried to be flexible in using community locations wherever possible.
“Of course, we had to adopt the stricter PPE and infection control procedures and work with families to reassure them that they could bring their babies safely to see us during that difficult time.” All of this meant that all babies continued to be offered a screen and any assessment required throughout the pandemic.”
Praising her staff, she said: “I’m very proud of the team. And I’m very proud that we managed to maintain the service throughout the pandemic.
“The audit report means we’re delivering the service to the quality that’s expected of us. And families can be assured that children referred to us for assessment will be seen and managed in a timely manner, with the skills and expertise that they require.”
Swansea Bay CEO, Mark Hackett, said: “I would like to congratulate all in our audiology department who contributed to such a glowing audit report.
“In particular it’s pleasing to see how this great team has shown the drive, professionalism and commitment to patients – as have so many of our staff over the past two years or so – in adapting to the challenges thrown up by the pandemic.
“We should all be proud of their achievement.”