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Cuts may lead to more child deafness, says charity

The boss of Deafness Research UK, Vivienne Michael, has sounded a warning over plans to drastically reduce the numbers of children receiving grommets for glue ear – a condition that can lead to deafness.

The recently leaked McKinsey report suggested that some £700 million could be saved by the NHS by no longer commissioning procedures unable to demonstrate ‘tangible benefits’.

The report includes comments on glue ear treatments and has concluded them to be ‘relatively ineffective’.

However the NHS’ own watchdog, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), undertook a broad appraisal of the best evidence in 2008 and concluded that, while restrictive criteria had to be met, there was definite place for grommet operations.

Vivienne Michael, chief executive of Deafness Research UK, said:

“Current controversies are putting thousands of children – and their families – at the risk of suffering unnecessarily.

“We are doing everything we can to support research to help understand the condition better, develop new treatments and define the types of children most needing grommets.”

Glue ear is the popular name for Otitis Media with Effusion (OME), a consequence of earlier acute infection of the middle ear.

The middle ear becomes full of fluid, making it hard for sound to pass through.

The condition is very common in children and often improves on its own, but in some cases (around 5-10% of children) it is long-lasting, with an associated hearing loss.

If children have repeated bouts of glue ear, grommet surgery is a quick and painless solution.

Under anaesthetic, a tiny slit is made in the ear drum to drain out the fluid and then and the grommet – a small plastic ventilation tube – is inserted.

After a few months, the grommets fall out naturally and good hearing is usually restored.

Vivienne Michael added: “Otitis Media is not a trivial condition and in serious cases, grommets are essential.

“Unnecessary procedures were undoubtedly performed in the past when the condition was not well understood.

“But this should not be used as a justification for cutting funding for an often valuable procedure.

“With pressures on funding, we are concerned there may be delays in treatment for those children in whom the condition does not resolve itself.

“In the long-term, this won’t save money and, for the children seriously affected, there could be significant impact on their development which grommets could have easily alleviated.”

Deafness Research UK’s Ear infections and glue ear leaflet is available free by calling the charity’s helpline on 0808 808 2222 or by email at

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