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A new report released on 10 November 2011 by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, has found more than 1600 Indigenous children at risk from ear disease and hearing loss have waited an average of more than two years for specialist care in the Northern Territory (NT).
In the wake of the NT intervention focused on child health care, about two-thirds of Indigenous children who received an ear, nose and throat consultation or audiology check were diagnosed with at least one type of middle ear condition. But the average waiting time between referral and service was 14.3 months for audiology services and 24.5 months for ear, nose and throat services, the report said.
Tests revealed that 1503 children, or a third of those who had received an audiology check, had a hearing impairment and about 11 per cent were suffering a disabling loss of hearing.
The institute report said there were many complications in dealing with common ear diseases like otitis media in the NT. These included the need for treatment at critical times over long periods, challenges in co-ordinating multiple service providers including doctors, child health nurses and ear, nose and throat specialists, as well as the hurdles of weather, remoteness and family reluctance or inability to get children to care.
A spokesman for Indigenous Health Minister Warren Snowdon said the report showed service providers had made a huge effort to deliver audiology services to more than 4500 children and ENT specialists to more than 2500 children. He acknowledged the ear problems remain 'critically high'.