Kerre McIvor

Kerre McIvor is a Herald on Sunday columnist

Kerre Woodham: Turning a deaf ear

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The health system may no longer fund grommet procedures. Photo / Thinkstock
The health system may no longer fund grommet procedures. Photo / Thinkstock

When my daughter was a toddler, she was prone to ear infections. They only ever seemed to strike her after 10pm and on the weekends, so we were frequent flyers at our local after hours clinic. She'd be on antibiotics for 10 days, come off them for a week and then - bam - another ear infection.

A mum in my neighbourhood embraced holistic remedies for her children. She used to place a clove of garlic in her child's ear - until the fateful night the poor tot's eardrum burst and then it was antibiotics all the way for her.

The doctors talked about putting grommets into Kate's ears, but they preferred to wait and see if she would grow out of the infections and luckily she did.

Other kids aren't so fortunate. Their hearing is affected, the world passes them by in a blur of indistinguishable sounds, there are behavioural issues - parents think their kids are being naughty when in fact they simply can't hear their parents' instructions - and on occasion, speech is affected.

For many parents, grommets are a godsend - although children aren't the only ones who need the procedure. Adults get grommets too and find their life is infinitely easier with their improved ability to hear.

However, grommets will no longer be funded through the public health system, it was announced this week. Or rather, there will be a 'disinvestment' of grommet procedures, whatever the hell that means. A government group has been charged with finding $30 million worth of savings from the elective surgery list, and grommets are the first to go.

The National Health Committee won't say which specific procedures they're going to be taking to with their scalpels, but it is drawing on a Welsh report that identified 550 elective surgical procedures deemed to be of low priority. The committee announced it would be looking at the top 25 procedures on the Welsh list to see if they were of low priority or limited benefit in this country as well - although they won't divulge which procedures make up the top 25, saying the work in this area is at a very early stage.

There's nothing wrong with having a long hard look at what the health budget is spent on - although I do hope the National Health Committee is looking at how cuts could be made on the administrative and managerial side of the health system.

And certainly a lot of the operations and procedures are not performed for life-saving reasons. The number of elective caesareans performed these days because women don't want the inconvenience and pain of childbirth is ridiculous.

But if you have varicose veins, protruding ears, toxic tonsils and haemorrhoids - and yes, I suppose a fear of childbirth, any operation that resolved your problem would certainly be life-enhancing. Should the taxpayer fund life-enhancing operations? I guess that's for the National Health Committee to decide.

But if the first item to be disinvested is the procedure for grommets, I don't have a lot of confidence in the committee's choices. I'm darn sure the parents of kids who've needed grommets after years of pain, antibiotics and slow speech development in the worst instances, wouldn't see this operation as a fanciful luxury.

- Herald on Sunday

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