Want to get a NHS hearing aid in the UK?

28 05 2007

An 85 year old pensioner in Bromley, Kent has had to wait four years to get a digital hearing aid on the NHS. This is not uncommon. The average wait in Bromley is 114 weeks compared to the national average of 41 weeks. This situation is forcing many people, like Ian, to go private, with the lottery of aftercare this entails. I was told I had a two year wait to upgrade from one digital aid to another, they also told me I had to wait two years for my new earmoulds. Disgusted, I switched hospitals and got my new hearing and earmoulds within two months. Hey, I’m a working lass and need them to communicate! Not being able to communicate effectively is embarrassing and frustrating, says Jeff Rich, drummer with Status Quo. Plenty of other people are unhappy with the state of audiology in the UK.

MPs have expressed their disgust at the NHS hearing aid service. The House of Commons published a report this month on the situation within the NHS. On May 16, a parliamentary health committee recommended the waiting time be cut to 18 weeks by December 2008.

Digital hearing aids produce a higher quality of sound and are generally better for most people than analogue aids, given that some will have a difficult time adjusting to them. In 2000, the (MHAS) Modernising Hearing Aid Services programme was introduced by the government to improve audiology services, mainly through the provision of digital hearing aids. However, there was a rise in demand not just from new patients, but also from those who wanted to upgrade their analogue aids. This rise in demand was not predicted (why not?) and led to very long waiting lists. To further compound the problem, audiology services have been given a low priority by some PCTs (Primary Care Trusts).

Audiology is still not a high priority for the government. Audiology is outside the 18 week referral to treatment target that applies to other services. This has meant some doctors are referring people to ENT departments (Ear Nose and Throat) so they can be seen more quickly, putting unnecessary pressure on those services.

This brings us to yet another problem. The Department of Health needs to accurately forecast demand for digital hearing aids, to ensure adequate provision of services. To do this, they need to collate data on all audiology patients, including hearing aid waiting lists. Hearing Concern undertook a survey of hearing aid waiting lists in 2006. But here’s a thought. How many people are issued hearing aids and don’t use them? This penalises the people who really do need them.

Services vary between different areas. I have had a superb service from one audiology department and an abysmal service from another. In one particularly bad case, I was sitting in the waiting area, waiting to be seen by a consultant. A nurse came up to me and said ‘the consultant is shouting for you to come in.’ Huh? I went in and couldn’t understand a word he said. The nurse told me he was asking me to leave my Hearing Dog outside. And this is good practice in the NHS?!

Medical staff need to be adequately trained, services need to be made more efficient, investment needs to be made in the right areas, opening hours and how patients can contact departments need to be reviewed. The Department has decided to negotiate new contracts with the private sector. The Select Committee recommended that a national tariff for audiology services is produced by the Department to enable assessments of these contracts.

The private sector is investing more heavily now. Opticians are now providing hearing aid services, however some have been accused of persuading NHS patients to purchase expensive frames and lenses. What people need are value for money, and high and consistent quality of care and aftercare.

There are approximately 5-6 million people who would benefit from a hearing aid, but only 2 million have them fitted. The government rolled out a programme six years ago to replace analogue hearing aids with digital aids, and the latest technology has been available in all English hospitals for over 18 months.

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One response

2 06 2007
Ian

Excellent. Needs spreading to a much wider audience.

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