Hearing Loss Charities Concerned Over First Case of Hearing Aid Rationing
Hearing loss charities have expressed concerns over the first case of hearing aid rationing in the NHS. The North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has announced that it will no longer provide hearing aids to adults with mild hearing loss.
From this month onwards, North Staffordshire patients who may have some difficulty following some speech in a noisy situation due to background noise will not be able to obtain hearing aids on the NHS.
In addition, even people with moderate hearing loss will struggle to get free hearing aids. Those whose hearing loss is in the range of 41 to 55 decibels with be required to undergo a hearing assessment before a decision is reached. Only those with a hearing loss of over 56 decibels will not be affected by the new policy.
The decision to ration hearing aids is expected to save the commissioning group around £200,000 over the next year. A further five clinical commissioning groups are also proposing to follow the same policy.
Hearing loss charities have expressed a large amount of concern over the new policy, stressing that it is unfair to deprive people with hearing loss of the devices that play such an important role in their lives.
“Today sees people with hearing loss bearing the brunt of NHS rationing, with the first ever cuts to free hearing aid services on the NHS,” says Paul Breckell, chief executive of Action on Hearing Loss. “The cuts run contrary to the robust independent evidence which shows the importance of hearing aids, and the views of local people who tell us that hearing aids can be life-changing. Not only will new patients who’ve just started to confront their hearing loss be denied access to the only treatment available, many who have already been relying on hearing aids but who now need new ones will not get them.”
Dr Lorraine Gailey of the charity Hearing Link adds that rationing hearing aids will only cause new problems for those with hearing loss, increasing the number who suffer from accidents or become depressed.
The British Society of Audiology is helping run a petition against the proposed cuts which has so far attracted 5,110 signatures from people living in Staffordshire.
The North Staffordshire CCG argues that the new policy was the result of extensive consultations over the last year. Chief operating officer Marcus Warnes says: “Our decision to introduce an eligibility criteria for hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss was not financially driven but clinically-led, and based on a significant amount of research and extensive engagement with local people and stakeholders and a variety of national bodies with specialist expertise.”