Eleanor Fitter has had her only chance of living a normal life put on hold because her local NHS Trust has run out of funds. Eleanor, aged two, is profoundly deaf and without speech. Although she has been fitted with a hearing aid for the last year, this does not give her enough hearing to perceive any speech sounds. Her only hope of living a normal life and attending a mainstream school is an operation for cochlear implant. This implant is a device which is partly implanted into the inner ear and has external parts worn behind the ear like a hearing aid (for further details, see below.)
Eleanor with Jake, her pet rabbit (with thanks to Andover Advertiser)
Sir George talks to Kay Oliver of Meridian News, who have taken up Eleanor's case
Click for a full size picture
She was due to undergo an operation for the implant in Southampton Hospital next month. But now her parents Tracy and Mark Fitter, who live in Corunna Main, Andover, have been told the £30,000 treatment has been cancelled because of a lack of funding. Their daughter is on a waiting list and her case will be reassessed in April.
They have been on an emotional roller coaster for over a year while their daughter was tested at hospitals in Winchester and Southampton
“We thought long and hard about the operation for Eleanor and the side effects and what we would be putting our daughter through but we knew this was her only real chance of living a normal life,” said mum Tracy. “To be told it has been cancelled is overwhelming. I don’t want to moan about NHS, everyone has been marvellous. We have had superb treatment from Winchester and Southampton hospitals, from the consultants and staff."
“But we now have to fight for Eleanor. She is such a bright little girl, not a movement escapes her. She knows what is going on around her and that is why her hearing tests were so difficult."
“Time is precious. There is only a small window of opportunity for children like Eleanor to be treated in this way so that they can acquire sounds and speech, otherwise the implants do not work so well.”
Andover’s MP Sir George Young has joined the fight and is pressing Ministers for a change in the funding formula for Hampshire.
"People in Andover will never believe the Government's claim that NHS resources are being increased while the three local Primary Care Trusts are rationed to only two Cochlear Implants a year, and cases like Eleanor have to wait for over 12 months. She was referred to the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre in November 2001, and has been told to wait until April 2003, at the earliest, before receiving treatment. This is despite the Primary Care Trust's policy of giving priority to children aged between 2 and 6, when lingustic ability is being acquired."
"In the meantime, she will remain without hearing any sound at all at a key stage in her development. She will not develop any speech or understanding of language. This will affect her thought patterns and how she relates to the outside world and of course how she relates to her parents. She is a bright child whose potential is being held back through a lack of hearing."
"The root of the problem is not the performance of the local NHS Trust, who manage well with the resources they have. It is the Government;s formula which gives North and Midhampshire £84 per person, as against an average of £100 for England and Wales. There is no justification for this allocation. If they gave us £90, we could deliver a good quality of service. But at £84 it is impossible."
The specialist from the education department has said that "if the implant is not made now, Eleanor will begin to use sign language as her first language. With a bright child like Eleanor, she is likely to become so advanced using sign language that, if implanted later, the perception of sound will not of itself promote the spoken word. In effect she will have had her choice between speaking and signing taken away."
Eleanor fulfills all of the required critieria for the operation, both audiological and medical. All the factors are present to allow for the development of speech as a main form of communication if the operation goes ahead. The only reason for not having the operation is that the trust did not commission enough of the necessary operations because it did not have the funds. Not only will Eleanor have to wait, but the Trust have also had to defer until April next year any other referrals for assessment."
"I have written to the Minister about this as I'm sure he cannot be satisfied with a wait of this length. I hope he will be able to intervene."
The external part of the implant picks up sound with a microphone, processes this signal into a digital form which is transmitted through the skin to a receiver which relays the signal to the prosthesis in the inner ear. Here it stimulates the nerve endings directly to send a signal down the nerve to the brain. There is no amplification of sound; it bypasses the ear canal, eardrum, ossicles and cochlea to deliver the sound in electrical form directly to the nerve, just as the normal ear does.
Progress made by many implanted children shows that, if the implant can be ‘set up’ appropriately and all the necessary factors are present, development of speech as an acceptable form of communication is possible. There is a number of such children in Hampshire already who are making excellent progress with speech & language development which would not have been possible
with their hearing levels before implantation. There are a few cases where this has not happened, but there are reasons why this is so.