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Free hearing aids on the NHS at risk?

February 03, 2016 by Paul Harrison
Published in: Hearing Aids

Free hearing aids on the NHS at risk?

In the autumn of 2015 planned cuts were announced to hearing aid services by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across the country.

These groups are part of the NHS and look for ways for the organisation to save money. One of these money saving cuts was to hearing aid services for those with mild hearing loss. The counties involved were North, South and West Staffordshire, Mid Essex, South Norfolk, Devon and Cornwall.

The proposed cuts would only affect people with mild hearing loss. A mild hearing loss is a hearing threshold of 25 to 40 decibels. Those with a hearing threshold of over 40 decibels would not be affected.

The cuts would not affect children or those who had hearing loss since childhood. Nor would it affect people with sudden onset hearing loss or auditory processing problems. Those with other physical or sensory disabilities, learning difficulties or dementia would not be affected by these cuts. Their argument was that those who needed hearing aids the most would still get access to them.

Those who would be hit the hardest by these cuts would be those with gradual hearing loss. This includes those with noise induced hearing loss or those in the early stages of presbycusis or age related hearing loss. Hearing aids would only be given to people with mild hearing loss if the person could prove that it was affecting their everyday life. This would be on a case by case basis and involve an assessment.

Controversially, New Devon CCG also planned to restrict hearing aids to one per person.

Campaigns by hearing aid users and charities fought the proposed cuts on a local and national level with protests and petitions. Action On Hearing Loss, one of the largest charities also ran a national campaign and presented arguments to the councils and CCG’s involved.

The people on the clinical commissioning groups seemed not to understand the impact the cuts to hearing aid services would have on people’s lives. Hearing aids can be a lifeline for those who begin to feel shut out and isolated from family and friends due to their hearing loss. By keeping people connected, they help to combat loneliness and depression.

Even when hearing loss is mild it can cause difficulty hearing conversation in noisy places like work or restaurants, social occasions can become very challenging. Not getting hearing aids early can cause further problems such as auditory deprivation. Only getting one hearing aid if you need two means that they would still miss out on half of what’s going on around them.

Each county met to discuss the cuts and all were presented with large petitions and arguments against restricting hearing aids.

In November 2015 despite public protests and a petition with 6000 signatures, North Staffordshire began to restrict hearing aids for those with mild hearing loss.

Following public pressure, East Staffordshire and Mid Essex have put their plans on hold, to have further discussion and look at other options for saving money.

In January 2016 South Staffordshire, Devon and Cornwall CCG announced that they would not be restricting hearing aids. This decision was warmly welcomed by all involved.

During January, the charity Action On Hearing Loss published their own in depth report on NHS audiology restrictions.  Their campaign continues.

East Staffordshire and Mid Essex are yet to announce their plans for the future. This may be dependant on NHS England publishing their National Commissioning Framework for Audiology Services, which is due to be published in April 2016.

With an ongoing campaign in North Staffordshire to reverse the CCG’s decision and the future of other hearing aid services hanging in the balance, it is clear that free hearing aid services face an uncertain future.


Author: Paul Harrison

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