ENT SURGEONS SAY FUNDING LACK MEANS DEAFNESS FOR MANY

This story was reported by Nine to Noon, RNZ on 30/7/19

Ear, nose and throat surgeons say they are frustrated only 40 adults a year are funded to get implants which give them their hearing back. 

A cochlear implant is a surgically-implanted electronic device that restores hearing for those with profound hearing loss.

Two hundred people a year meet the criteria for the surgery to receive an implant, but the government currently funds 40 operations for adults nationally each year.

This base figure hasn't changed for more than five years and surgeons say it needs to be tripled.

The New Zealand Society of Otolaryngology has written to the Health Minister and the Prime Minister, imploring it to approve more funding.

Neil Heslop from the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme says based on current referral rates 500 adults could be waiting for cochlear implants in just a few years.

"The thing that's frustrating is that it's never been more affordable for central government to fund this as it is now," he said.

"There appears to be such inequity in this particular area of the health sector. We spend about about $45 million a year on cataracts and we spend that amount of money on the cochlear implant programme over five years."

Implant recipient Nikki Cleine told Nine to Noon she is one of the lucky ones, she received government funding for a cochlea implant in 2011, after being profoundly deaf for more than six years.

Mrs Cleine was born able to hear, but she started to lose her hearing in her late teens. By her late 30s she was profoundly deaf.

"I was unaware that profound hearing loss could happen to somebody like me. I mistakenly thought it was something that could happen to older people, or was just the result of an accident."

She said life in general was extremely difficult and she felt isolated following her hearing loss.

"I could no longer use the telephone accurately, I couldn't participate in family dinners and family conversation. Going out with friends and socialising was extremely difficult. I could never understand what people were talking about, I was always behind the eight ball with the conversation.

"It was a very, very low point in my life."

She said receiving a cochlea implant allowed her to hear her son's voice properly for the first time.

"It changed my life like you just couldn't believe," she said. "I can do things that I never would have thought possible. I can talk to my children freely, I've got another job. It's just opened up so many doors for me and has brought back the sparkle to my life."

Ms Cleine says cochlear implants are not covered by medical insurance, but some medical insurance companies will cover the surgery aspect of the implant.

The cost for a private patient is somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000.