:: BBC NEWS | Health | MPs condemn hearing aid provision ::

BBC NEWS | Health | MPs condemn hearing aid provision

hearing aid.jpgNHS hearing aid services are unacceptable and appallingly patchy, a committee of MPs has warned.

Half a million people are currently waiting for a hearing aid with some having waited more than two years, the health select committee said.

More capacity is needed and audiology services should be included in 18-week targets, they conclude.

The Department of Health admits waits in some areas were too long but said progress was being made.

In 2000, the government introduced the Modernising Hearing Aid Services programme to improve audiology services, mainly through the provision of digital aids.

But this lead to a surge in demand as people switched over from the old analogue models.

Dr John Low, RNID.jpgThe committee said it was surprising that this increase in demand was not anticipated.

And because of a lack of planning and inconsistent collection of data on waiting times it is unknown whether the increased demand is a temporary phenomenon or a long-term trend.

Either way, extra capacity is needed now, the committee concludes.

Patchy service

They said there was much good practice in audiology services but were “appalled by the variability”, which was partly due to the lack of priority given to audiology by primary care trusts (PCTs).

Despite huge waiting lists, many NHS-trained audiologists are unable to find jobs the committee heard.

The government has advised the NHS to set up “one-stop shops” to speed up assessment and fitting and to use the private sector to help tackle demand.

Committee chairman Kevin Barron said: “It is appalling that we don’t know either the extent of current delays or the likely levels of future demand for audiology services.

“The government must ensure that this information is available as soon as possible. Future policy must be made in an evidence-based manner.”

Dr John Low, chief executive of RNID, the national charity for deaf and hard of hearing people, said: “It’s a disgrace that audiology has been excluded from the general 18-week waiting-time target.

“No-one should have to wait more than 18 weeks – let alone two years, as in some cases – when digital hearing aids can literally transform their lives.”

He added: “It is of great concern that no progress appears to have been made on the promised procurement of substantial additional capacity from the independent sector.”

Health Minister Ivan Lewis said: “By December 2008 all patients with hearing or balance problems that require care from a hospital consultant will be treated within 18 weeks.

“All other patients with routine hearing loss should be assessed within six weeks.

“Waits in some parts of the country are unacceptably long and the plan sets out how we will work with the NHS to reduce them and deliver high quality services closer to home.”

Mark Georgevic, president of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists said untreated hearing loss could have a serious impact on the physical and mental health of the sufferer.

“We remain concerned that until PCTs are given a target for the whole process of fitting hearing aids, they will put their resources into meeting the assessment target, and that the time lag between assessment and fitting will increase instead.”

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