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Hearing service cuts in the NHS

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Are you starting to wonder when that appointment for the NHS audiologist is ever going to come through for your parent? Are you puzzled that they have a hearing aid but don’t seem to be tuning in that much better?

A report from Action on Hearing (previously known as the RNID) may hold the answer. Research, by the charity, shows that some NHS hospitals are lengthening the waiting time to get an initial appointment and then for check-ups also. Moreover, when patients are seen, they are being issued with one hearing device when two might be better. The changes in services vary across the UK from hospital to hospital. You can download the full report from the charity’s website.

Only 135 NHS trusts offer audiology services, despite the fact that 70% of over 70-year-olds and 40% of over 50-year-olds have some form of hearing loss. With cuts continuing throughout the NHS, it seems unlikely that this situation will improve, even with the adverse publicity that Action on Hearing has managed to stir up. Action on Hearing offers recommendations, though we don’t know what impact they will have on cash-strapped trusts:

  • protect provision of bilateral hearing aids and tinnitus services
  • address local variation in access to services
  • stop cutting vital services such as follow up - it is a false economy
  • use innovations in the best interests of patients

If you think your parent isn’t receiving the hearing services from the NHS that they need, what’s the alternative?

That would be private care. Private hearing aid dispensing operates in many ways very like the optician business, but on a smaller scale. There are indeed High St opticians and supermarkets who offer hearing tests and a limited selection of hearing aids. There are also independent audiologists who may operate from their own premises or rent a room in another shop or centre. The independents will have far more on offer, at a greater range of prices.

How do you choose?

There is very little point in taking a hearing test in a noisy environment. It’s worth asking before even making an appointment where the test will take place. If it’s the back room of a shop with no acoustic silence, keep walking.

Technologies and prices vary enormously, so again it’s worth asking what’s available and at what price. Hearing aids can sit in the ear, on the ear, perched on the end of the arm of their glasses, or as completely separate pieces of equipment. Experts will offer a choice and explain what works best for whom.

If you’re taking the path of private care and therefore choice, here are our top tips to get the best hearing help for your parent:

  • Make sure whatever aid your parent receives helps all the time – background noise can often cancel out any benefit
  • Consider how easy it will be for less nimble fingers to manage the aid – in and out of the ear and while changing batteries
  • Above all make sure the aid is comfortable or it will never be removed from its box

Have you had any experience of NHS hearing support services being reduced? Do you believe your parents are getting the help they need from the NHS? Have you turned to the private sector instead?

Let us know with a comment below.

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