Bosses at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage have been updated on ongoing work to improve children’s audiology services – after failings were identified as part of a national review.

East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust was one of a number of Trusts nationwide where concerns were raised as a result of a review last year

And this ultimately led to a “pause” in the delivery of the paediatric audiology services at the Trust, due to “concerns related to potential harm” .

For a time the Trust has been relying on the independent sector and “mutual aid” – that’s external providers working within the Trust – to take paediatric referrals.

But now the Trust has taken back the delivery of audiology testing for the all over-threes – dealing with the vast majority of their own patients.

And at a meeting of the Trust’s  Board on Wednesday, May 1, members were updated on the actions that have been taken to improve the service.

All staff – according to a report presented to the board – have gone through a review of competencies and knowledge since the concerns were highlighted last year.

And they have spent “significant” time in other organisations – receiving peer support, observing practice and receiving clinical supervision to achieve “competency sign off”.

Additional paediatric and adult audiologists have been recruited – with the Trust seeking to recruit to several more senior posts.

And – says the report – new equipment is being purchased, as well as the use of a new digital clinical system.

As part of the ongoing work at the Trust since July 2023, staff from Guys and St Thomas’s have been reviewing clinical pathways, drawing up policies and standard operating  procedures – as well as providing clinical supervision.

And following the board meeting on Wednesday Trust chief executive Adam Sewell-Jones told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that “without doubt” the service was stronger than it had been 24 months ago.

He said residents could now be assured that clinical staff are competent – and that the Trust is “far more confident” in the service.

Meanwhile the Trust now aims to achieve IQUIPS accreditation. And Mr Sewell-Jones says that if the Trust were to be awarded this accreditation the department would be stronger than it has ever been.

“It shouldn’t have taken this to get there,” he said. “But we are seeing progress as a result.”

At the meeting it was reported to the board that concerns about the Trust’s service had been first raised following a national peer review in March 2023.

Quality of data, the processes for identification of risk and follow-up arrangements were among the concerns raised.

And 69 patients at the Trust were identified as having suffered “potential harm”, including “potential significant harm”.

As a result the Trust went on to  commission a serious incident investigation – which remains “in progress”.

A further assessment by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS) in June 2023 – requested by the Trust – highlighted “significant areas of concern” in leadership, the specialist workforce and skill mix; the training and competency; and environment and equipment.
And it was at this point the paediatric audiology service was paused, “due to concerns related to potential patient harm” – with the Trust bringing in external providers and out-sourcing to the independent sector.

As of March 2024, the report to the Trust board indicates there are 4233 new referrals waiting to be seen – and a further 1099 awaiting follow up.

And, it says, the Trust continues to respond to a “significant” number of complaints and concerns regarding the audiology service.