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Almost 1,300 children were referred for hearing health services as part of the child health checks in the Northern Territory, and 70% of children have received follow up services, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

Over 1,600 children in the Northern Territory also received an ear, nose and throat (ENT) referral during the health checks, and 73% went on to receive the service for which they were referred.

However, the average waiting time between referral and service was 14.3 months for audiology services and 24.5 months for ENT services.

The report, Ear and hearing health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory, provides data from the Australian Government-funded follow-up ear and hearing health services delivered through the Child Health Check Initiative (CHCI) and the Closing the Gap program under the Northern Territory National Partnership Agreement.

About 66% of children who received an ENT consultation or audiological assessment were diagnosed with at least one type of middle ear condition. The three most common diagnoses were otitis media with effusion (OME), dry perforation, and chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM).

Among children who received an audiology service, 53% had some form of hearing loss and 33% had hearing impairment. Around 11% had a level of hearing impairment defined by WHO as a disability.

‘The good news is that many children experienced improvements after initially receiving the services—among those who had two or more audiology or ENT services. About 56%of the children who had hearing impairment at their first audiology check experienced improvements. In addition, there was a 15% decline in the proportion with middle ear conditions and 9% decline in hearing loss,’ Ms Pieris-Caldwell said.

The high need for audiology and ENT services is likely to continue into the future. By May 2011, 1,850 children who had already received audiology services were on the waiting list for further audiology services and 1,991 children who had already received ENT services required further ENT consultations.

Also, at 31 May 2011, there were 170 children with outstanding audiology referrals and 226 with outstanding ENT referrals from the original child health checks. Reasons for these outstanding referrals included logistic limitations due to inclement weather and road closures, or families not wishing to access follow-up services on the days available.

The AIHW is a major national agency set up by the Australian Government to provide reliable, regular and relevant information and statistics on Australia's health and welfare.

Canberra, 10 November 2011

Further information: Indrani Pieris-Caldwell, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1162, mob. 0419 251 763

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer 02 6244 1032

Full report: Ear and hearing health of Indigenous children in the Northern Territory