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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 June 2007, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Hearing aid priority for veterans
War veterans
Thousands of veterans are to be prioritised for hearing aids
War veterans will be able to go to the front of the queue for digital hearing aids on the NHS, say ministers.

Half a million people are currently waiting for a hearing aid, with some having waited more than two years.

Around 100,000 ex-servicemen and women are thought to have hearing problems, but only one in 10 was previously prioritised for hearing aids.

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing said war veterans deserved to have priority.

But the charity stressed that waiting times for digital hearing aids needed to improve for everyone.

They have effectively sacrificed their hearing for their country
Dr John Low, RNID

In May a committee of MPs warned that NHS hearing aid services were unacceptable and appallingly patchy.

The problem began in 2000 when the government introduced the Modernising Hearing Aid Services programme to improve audiology services, mainly through the provision of digital aids.

This lead to a surge in demand as people switched over from the old analogue models.

Hearing damage

Until now ex-servicemen and women were only prioritised if they met high government thresholds of hearing loss of 50 decibels in both ears, which meant they were eligible for pensions.

Otherwise they faced long waits - some more than two years.

But, in a statement to the House of Commons, veterans minister Stephen Twigg said: "Priority treatment applies to all disablements that have been found to be due to service, irrespective of whether they result in a pension."

Earlier this year it emerged that a 91-year-old World War II Spitfire fighter pilot had waited unsuccessfully for two years for a hearing aid at Ipswich hospital.

His deafness has been attributed to having flown in excess of 1,400 hours on war-time missions, being exposed to roaring engine noise without any proper ear protection.

He was eventually fitted with a free hearing aid by a local independent hearing aid dispenser.

RNID chief executive Dr John Low said the government needed to ensure that health authorities invest properly in hearing services, which had not been included in the 18-week wait target.

"After serving their country and paying with their hearing, being first in line is the very least they deserve, and fantastic news for Veterans Day."

"They have effectively sacrificed their hearing for their country," he said.

Alan Torbet, chief executive of the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists, welcomed the move to make war veterans a priority.

But he added: "The government's own figures show that about 80,000 people have already waited too long for an assessment, while our own survey shows that the average wait around England for a hearing aid fitting is 48 weeks."

War veterans need to present proof that their hearing loss had been caused by active service to their audiology clinic.




SEE ALSO
Long waits for new hearing aids
17 Sep 06 |  Health
Millions urged to check hearing
19 Dec 05 |  Health

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