In 2017, the Standing Committee on Health, Aged Care and Sport conducted a ten‑month long inquiry which culminated in the report Still Waiting to be Heard… Report on the Inquiry into the Hearing Health and Wellbeing of Australia (Hearing Health Report).
The Hearing Health Report was comprehensive and outlined 22 detailed recommendations on hearing health issues, including: hearing services for children, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and other vulnerable cohorts; the hearing services industry; Auslan services; research into hearing health and balance disorders; and education and awareness of hearing health.
The Report was well received by those in the hearing health sectors and has been a catalyst for the Roadmap for Hearing Health recently released by the federal government and the Council of Australian Governments (COAG).
Given the significant commitment and contributions by hearing health stakeholders, government agencies and individuals with hearing loss that informed the Hearing Health Inquiry (as well as the many other hearing health reviews that have taken place in recent years), the Committee was keen to examine the Government’s progress relating to its previous recommendations and the most up to date hearing health policy and programs more broadly.
The Report on the Inquiry into the 2017-18 Annual Reports of the Department of Health and Australian Hearing has highlighted a range of areas where the Government has acted, or intends to act, on the Hearing Health Report recommendations.
Additional funding has been allocated to target the hearing health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preschool children, and research aimed at ending avoidable deafness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people has been prioritised.
The 2017 Hearing Health Report highlighted that additional focus and funding was needed to improve the hearing health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Committee welcomes these developments. The Committee also urges the Government to maintain its focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander hearing health over the long term, given that it is an area that has been previously identified as being in ‘crisis.’
The Australian Government has also launched Sound Scouts, an online hearing assessment for school aged children, which was a recommendation of the Hearing Health Report. The Committee was pleased to see this program is being rolled out, as it has the potential to rapidly identify hearing issues in children and guide them towards treatment.
Another welcome development is the Roadmap for Hearing Health, developed by hearing health stakeholders, which presents an overarching direction for hearing health services and priorities. The Roadmap for Hearing Health was recently considered by COAG and Members will closely follow the progress of Roadmap.
While these are all positive steps, many of the Committee’s 2017 recommendations are yet to be implemented. In its 2018 response to the Hearing Health Report, the Government noted, did not support, or supported in principle only, the majority of recommendations. A number of hearing health stakeholders expressed their disappointment to the Committee that the Hearing Health Report has not resulted in greater Government action on hearing health issues.
The Committee has therefore reiterated many of its Hearing Health Report recommendations that remain relevant today. The Committee has also put forward six additional recommendations, reflecting changes in the sector that have occurred since 2017. This includes recommending that Australian Hearing remain the sole provider of paediatric hearing services under the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and that the Government announce the provider and service arrangements following the full rollout of the NDIS as soon as possible. The Committee also recommended that Sound Scouts be made mandatory for children in their first year of school. This would ensure that all children’s hearing needs are considered.
In addition, the Committee has made recommendations regarding a pilot hearing screening program for people accessing the aged care system, and research into balance disorders. The Committee also recommended that the Roadmap for Hearing Health be supported by a clear delineation of jurisdictional responsibilities, timelines for implementation and funding.
I would like to thank the hearing health stakeholders and government agencies who participated in this inquiry. I would also like to thank my Committee colleagues and the staff of the Committee for their commitment to this issue and health policy more broadly.
Mr Trent Zimmerman MP