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Friday, 17 May, 2002, 07:05 GMT 08:05 UK
Digital hearing aids launched
Audiological scientist testing patient
New digital hearing aids will improve patients' lives
Campaigners for deaf and hard of hearing people have hailed the launch of new digital technology services in Wales as the biggest step forward in the last two decades.

Hundreds of thousands of people will benefit from the new facilities, unveiled in Cardiff on Friday.

Digital Hearing Aids
Sound tailored to individual
Boosts and decreased loudness
Suppress background noise
Cancel feedback
Extra volume
Improve directional hearing

However,demand for the services - which will provide state-of-the-art hearing aids and testing equipment in hospitals across Wales - is expected to lead to a rise in waiting times for treatment.

But health chiefs say extra staff will be brought in and patients will benefit in the long term.

The Welsh Assembly has put 2.25m into improving services in hospitals.

The modernisation programme means that new digital hearing aids (DHAs) will be available on the NHS in Wales by the end of August.

Wales is said to be leading the rest of the UK in this field.

  • Fewer than a third of NHS patients in England will have access to DHAs and modernised audiology departments in 2002/03.

  • In Scotland, only 1.4% of people who have a need for DHAs actually receive one.

  • DHAs are not available on the NHS at all in Northern Ireland.

Some patients in Wales have already benefited from the new service including 26-year-old Swansea student Gillian Jackson.

"It means a big improvement in my life," she said.

Patient Gillian Jackson
Gillian Jackson: Big improvement
"It is difficult to hear everything in lectures and I have to have the TV volume so loud that my friends can't cope.

"But now it is great and so much better."

Audiological scientist Rhys Meredith, of Singleton Hospital in Swansea, said the new facilities will be the best in Europe.

He said: "Wales is leading the way because the service is being modernised in one go.

"In England they are only piloting in about 10% of hospitals so they are increasing the postcode lottery problem.

Tailored aids

"Hearing aids can now be better tailored to suit the prescription needs of individual patients.

"This takes longer initially so waiting lists will increase but then patients will receive better and more reliable equipment so they won't have to come back so often."

The programme is being launched at RNID Cymru's "Breaking the Sound Barrier" conference in Cardiff.

First Minister Rhodri Morgan and Director RNID Cymru Jim Edwards
Mr Edwards: "It wouldn't have happened without the assembly"

RNID Cymru Director Jim Edwards said: "This is the biggest step forward for the 460,000 deaf and hard of hearing people in Wales for 20 years.

"This wouldn't have happened without the existence of the Welsh Assembly.

"We won't have to put up with the postcode lottery situation which exists in England."

At the conference, RNID Chief Executive James Strachan warned that deaf and hard of hearing people could miss out on the digital TV revolution if subtitling is not made available.

However, a number of other new technology advances - including Visicast, a virtual sign language interpreter which could be used on digital TV - were demonstrated at the conference.

Where I Live, South West Wales
See also:

26 Apr 02 | Health
Elderly miss out on hearing aids
06 Feb 02 | Scotland
Charity seeks deal for deaf people
08 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Deaf go mobile phone crazy
24 Dec 01 | Health
Hearing aid provision boost
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