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Charity leaders representing deaf people around the UK have met with NHS officials, demanding to know why they have fallen victim to funding cuts.
NHS leaders are planning to no longer give out hearing aids to people with mild or moderate hearing loss, a move that they are hoping could save up to £1.2 million. The cuts will affect patients living in the Newcastle borough and the Staffordshire Moorlands if approved.
Members of DEAFvibe – the biggest organisation for the deaf and hard-of-hearing in the area – met with the officials from the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) in order to voice their concerns regarding the move.
Julie Hart, the charity chairman, said:
"This came completely out of the blue and will be disastrous for thousands of people in North Staffordshire.
"We understand finances are hard for the NHS but we can't understand why the deaf have been singled out in this way.
"There are many people in North Staffordshire suffering from mild-to-moderate hearing loss. If this goes ahead they face the prospect of spending thousands of pounds on a digital hearing aid.
"Many cannot afford that so they will try to live with their problem until they become profoundly deaf and then meet the new NHS criteria for a hearing aid.
"So not only will they be robbed of many years of quality life being able to hear, they risk becoming isolated and running into depression and anxiety.
"And that will cost the NHS locally vastly more to treat than the sum they are trying to save."
CCG officials have already noted how essential it is to consider the clinical benefits of their spending when large sums of money are involved. However, they have also pledged to not make any key decisions unless they have consulted with patients and other interested parties.
There are no plans to take away hearing aids from those who already have them, and patients would still be eligible for NHS hearing tests should the new regulations come into effect.
Pam Bryan, a disability campaigner who has used a hearing aid for ten years, branded the proposal as ‘ridiculous’.
Ms Bryan said:
"I am classed as moderately deaf so as such I would be denied a hearing aid under these changes if I lived in Newcastle or the Moorlands.
"I am secretary of the STAND disability group so I wouldn't be able to do this voluntary work which, I hope, helps many others without hearing aids.
"I initially went private for the service but it was bad so my doctor referred me to the NHS at Longton Hospital which was so much better."