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November 29, 2002

Seven years in implant queue because of medical mix-ups

From: Townsville Bulletin, Northern Australia
29 Nov 2002


BUREAUCRATIC bungles, lost records and long waiting lists have contributed to a Magnetic Island man's seven-year wait for a cochlear implant.

Peter Robertson, 41, is profoundly deaf and has been waiting for the device since applying for it seven years ago while living in northern New South Wales.

"I have had my hopes of better hearing and a more comfortable lifestyle dashed on several occasions, which has seen my self-esteem take quite a bashing and my feelings swap from anger to helplessness," Mr Robertson said.

"My three children, a girl aged 14, and two sons 13 and 10, have also had to endure the letdowns.

"I simply cannot attend parents and citizens school meetings, nor perform normal day-to-day tasks without a battle. That is how I see each day, as a struggle that perhaps has been quite unnecessary for many years."

A cochlear implant (or bionic ear) is an artificial hearing device that produces hearing sensations by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear.

Mr Robertson said he worked through 12 months of compulsory counselling with a Coolangatta audiologist to qualify for the implant. Then he discovered he would have to go on a waiting list for one to two years.

However, several years dragged by with no contact.

A shock came when he discovered he had never been placed on the waiting list in the first place. "I was numb on this information and felt quite frustrated and helpless," he said.

Mr Robertson was again put on the waiting list but records of preliminary work and appointments he had attended in order to qualify were lost.

"So all that had been done in the past had to be done all over again," he said. Mr Robertson said he could not afford private health cover because he was on a single parent pension.

He is now on a public waiting list at the Brisbane Mater Hospital.

Mater Health Services director of audiology and key member of the cochlear implant team Lee Kethel said Mr Robertson had not been referred to the hospital until April this year.

She said the hospital was the only publicly funded adult clinic in Queensland, which had an average waiting list of two to three years.

She said the clinic had an average of 30 referrals a year, with only nine operations carried out a year.

"People shouldn't have to wait that long but it's out of my control," Ms Kethel said. "We sometimes think 'Is one person more deserving than another?' but everybody is in the same need."

© The North Queensland Newspaper Company Limited