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Last Updated: Friday, 5 January 2007, 19:12 GMT
Hearing aid pledge 'may not work'
Digital hearing aids
Digital hearing aids are a major advance
Moves to cut waiting lists for the hard of hearing could result in even longer queues for hearing aids, the Royal National Institute for the Deaf fears.

Research by Conservative MP Grant Shapps found waits of up to five years for new digital hearing aids.

Ministers admitted queues were too long and said they will shortly publish an "action plan" to tackle the problem.

But the RNID says the pledge only applies to hearing tests and queues for new aids could get even longer.

Welwyn Hatfield MP Grant Shapps surveyed nearly 100 NHS trusts throughout England and said he was "shocked" when the results came through.

Our concern is that efforts will be diverted into meeting the targets for assessing hearing, and waiting times for getting hearing aids will lengthen even further
Angela

He found the average time from referral to fitting was over 40 weeks and re-assessments were taking 64 weeks.

"Delivering maximum 18 week waiting times was the key objective for the NHS under this government, it is disappointing that yet again the government have failed to even come close to meeting that target.

"Extra cash has been pumped into these services but the support is gradually being taken away leaving long waits for a service that affects hundreds of thousands of people across the country."

'Long time'

The increase in waiting time for fitting the first digital hearing aid is over 16% while reassessment waiting times have gone up by a "staggering" 41%, said Mr Shapps.

Patients are waiting well over a year for reassessment fitting of hearing aids and some Trusts are taking even longer, with re-assessed fittings in Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Hospitals taking five years.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "We know that some people are waiting a long time for NHS hearing services which is why we are developing a national action plan to improve access to these services.

"We hope to announce details of this shortly. In the meantime, there are targets in place to see a consultant within 13 weeks and for diagnostic tests, including audiology, to be undertaken within 13 weeks by March 2007.

"We also announced recently that we are seeking to make up to 300,000 extra hearing tests per annum available to the NHS from the independent sector to help clear these waiting lists."

'Squeeze'

But the Royal National Institute for the Deaf said the proposed measures could make waiting lists for new aids even longer.

RNID Senior Audiology Specialist Angela King said: "These are targets for getting your hearing assessed only. There are no targets in place for getting your hearing aids fitted.

"Our concern therefore, is that efforts will be diverted into meeting the targets for assessing hearing, and waiting times for getting hearing aids will lengthen even further.

"While we welcome the government's intention to purchase up to 300,000 patient journeys, this is totally dependent on Primary Care Trusts being willing to commission them.

"Given the lack of a target and the current squeeze on health service budgets, it remains questionable whether they will do this."

It is estimated that 5-6 million people would benefit from a hearing aid, but only two million have them fitted.

The government began to roll out a programme to replace analogue hearing aids with digital versions six years ago, and the latest technology has been available in all English hospitals for over 18 months.




SEE ALSO
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