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Tuesday, June 8, 1999 Published at 01:50 GMT 02:50 UK


Hearing services 'are grim'

Helping the hard of hearing is not expensive, says RNID

People are waiting up to 18 months for a simple hearing test, according to the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).

The BBC's James Westhead: Getting a hearing aid can be an almighty struggle
A RNID report, Waiting to Hear?, found that the hard of hearing must also put up with out-dated technology.

The report found that the longest wait for a hearing test was in London - at an average of 18 months.

Waiting times varied greatly around the country, from 14.5 weeks in the south-west to seven weeks in the north-west.

The average wait was 10.5 weeks, but one centre in 10 made people wait more than 26 weeks for a hearing test.

After a test, a further appointment is needed to have a hearing aid fitted, and for this the RNID report found that people can wait up to a further 12 months.

Once in the system, people are generally fitted with out-of-date technology, the RNID report found.

Little time is spent on adjusting the aids to suit the individual's needs or giving guidance on using them. This leads to many giving up on them as a result.

'Lack of resources'

Technology such as hearing aids with directional microphones that pick up less background noise or digital devices are - apart from a handful of cases - only available from the private sector at over-inflated cost, the RNID says.

Lack of resources was cited by many NHS audiology departments as the reason why they are failing to deliver an adequate service.

But the RNID says that providing people with hearing aids is an inexpensive, cost-effective way of helping people improve their quality of life and maintain independence in later years.

In the UK, 48% of people over the age of 55 have some form of hearing loss and this figure rises to 93% of people over the age of 80.

And with an ageing population the numbers of people needing hearing aid services will rise.

Currently two million people in the UK have hearing aids, but the RNID estimates that an additional three million people could benefit significantly from them.

Action needed

The RNID has called on the government to implement a series of targets:

  • A reduction in the number of people who are waiting for a hearing aid from three million to two million over the next five years
  • A waiting time of no more than a month for a hearing test, and no more than a further month for a hearing aid to be fitted
  • A government task force to be established to examine how to provide up-to-date hearing aid technology
  • Digital hearing aids to be standard NHS provision within three to four years

  • Waiting times for routine hearing tests to be monitored centrally by the NHS

James Strachan, RNID chief executive, said: "The choice facing an individual with hearing loss is grim.

"Either you pay large sums of money for the latest technology via private hearing aid dispensers or wait unacceptably long periods for free, yet archaic and poor-quality, hearing aids on the NHS.

"People should be fitted with the best and most appropriate hearing aids to suit their needs. No single greater opportunity exists within the NHS to affect the quality of so many people's lives, so positively at such a low per capita cost."

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