NHS accused of rationing hearing aids

Campaigners have accused the NHS of being ‘cruel’ by denying people going deaf the hearing aids they need.

Growing numbers of NHS organisations currently have plans to ration access to hearing aids, even though using them can help to combat dementia, depression and social isolation amongst the hard of hearing.

Three of England’s 211 GP-led local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), all of which fund treatments, are currently facing heavy criticism following the announcement that they will restrict hearing aids in order to save money. 

The Northern, Eastern and Weston Devon CCG have made the decision to only provide one hearing aid to those people who are suffering hearing loss in both ears, even though they need two.  CCGs in North Staffordshire and Kernow in Cornwall have introduced eligibility criteria that may deny aids to those with only mild to moderate hearing loss.

New research has also indicated that 22 other CCGs may follow suit, or at least make some changes to the way their audiology services operate.

Louise Hart, of Action on Hearing Loss, said:

“To deny somebody the right to a good quality of life – the opportunity to be an active member of the community, interact with family and friends, or even to continue working – is akin to saying to someone, ‘I can make your life better by giving you hearing aids but I’m not going to’. It’s wrong, it’s cruel,”

“If you have hearing loss but don’t have hearing aids, you are more prone to depression. My patients often tell me they no longer go to social activities because they can’t hear any more.”

Meanwhile, Dr Roger Wicks highlighted the potential for a ‘domino effect’ to occur as a result of cuts:

“Hearing aids have been free on the NHS since its creation in 1948, and this is the first time routine provision has come under threat. It’s driven by the need to cut costs and has nothing to do with people’s health needs,” he said.

An estimated 10 million people in the UK currently have some form of hearing loss, with the numbers likely to rise to 14.4 million by the year 2031.  About 2 million – mainly older – people currently have hearing aids, 84 per cent of whom were fitted with them by the NHS.

A spokesperson for NHS England said that:

“Although commissioning decisions are the responsibility of local NHS commissioners, hearing loss can have a profound effect on an individual’s health and well-being and it is important that people have access to appropriate care.”

Newer Post