Wednesday, 16 September 2020, 11:02 am


New Zealand’s two providers of cochlear implant services today cautiously welcomed the National Party pledge that, if elected, it will increase the number of adult cochlear implants from 40 to 100 per year.

Southern Cochlear Implant Programme (SCIP) Chief Executive, Neil Heslop, said that currently just 40 adults nationally receive government funding for a cochlear implant every year. Today, there are 230 eligible adults on the waitlist, and with 200 new referrals each year this number is expected to increase significantly.

“Base funding for adult cochlear implants has not changed for the past six years, despite the growing backlog,” said Neil. “This means hundreds of profoundly deaf New Zealand adults are languishing in a silent prison, waiting to hear again.

“On behalf of our patients we will always welcome any proposal to sustainably increase funding to meet the growing need for these life-changing devices, whichever party becomes government.”

Lee Schoushkoff, Chief Executive of the Northern Cochlear Implant Programme (NCIP), said the cruellest thing about the current situation is that the technology is readily available.

“But the Government has put it in a glass cage, which is opened only for a select few,” said Lee.

“Cochlear implants are not covered by health insurance – either you are one of the 20 percent lucky enough to be funded, or you pay $50,000 to have the procedure privately.”

Adds Neil, “We now find ourselves in the distressing situation of ‘playing God’ with the quality of life and mental health of a number of otherwise productive New Zealanders.

“A further sad fact is that the majority of our adult candidates will die before they receive an implant.”

Both programmes claim the situation has now reached crisis point.

“While we appreciate the financial effects of the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic in regard to other health outcome government investment, the funding increase sought to return the gift of hearing is incremental and comparatively small,” said Lee.

“Together, we are challenging all political parties to adopt an increased funding initiative, or a cross-party agreement, that funding will increase to at least meet demand.”


  • A cochlear implant is a surgically-implanted electronic device that restores hearing for those with profound hearing loss.
  • The current lack of access means New Zealand is now in breach of its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Article 25)
  • Cochlear implants in New Zealand are not covered by health insurance.
  • Five referrals are received for every funded adult cochlear implant, and only 20 percent of patients are in a position to self-fund.
  • Most people on the waiting list were not born deaf – they lost their hearing as adults. The onset of total and permanent deafness can happen to anyone at any point.
  • Hearing aids become ineffective when the hearing loss is more than severe. Communication through spoken language becomes impossible. A cochlear implant is the last and only viable treatment that will restore hearing.


  • Public funding for adult cochlear implants in New Zealand first became available in 2003. However, this consisted of irregular, one-off surgeries (there was no set allocation).
  • An initial permanent base level of 20 adult cochlear implants per year was implemented in 2007. This was increased in 2013, to the current allocation of 40 adult cochlear implants per year. There has been no further increase in base-level funding since 2013.
  • The previous government provided only a one-off increase of $6.5 million for an extra 60 adult cochlear implants in 2017/18, after a 26,000 signature petition was presented to Parliament.
  • SCIP and NCIP are calling on the next Government to provide an immediate funding increase from 40 to 120 implants for adults per annum, to address the most urgent cases. This equates to just $6.4 million per year.
  • Based on current funding levels, New Zealand’s national cochlear implant programme represents just 0.04 percent of the entire health budget. Therefore, it is comparatively a very small spend for a significant impact.
  • Government funding for children is currently meeting demand.