Deaf News: Elderly deaf people in North Staffordshire may have to apply to a panel to get their hearing aids

Posted on June 25, 2014

Thousands of elderly people with hearing loss could be forced to plead for their hearing aids to an NHS panel following plans being considered by North Staffordshire NHS.

Marus Warnes, Chief operating officer of North Staffordshire CCG, revealed that people diagnosed with mild or moderate age-related hearing loss may have to apply to a panel to get hearing aids because no national guidelines exist forcing the NHS to provide them.

Earlier this month, health chiefs in North Staffordshire announced that they would be seeking the views from the public on a proposal to scrap giving hearing aids to people with mild or moderate age-related hearing loss, claiming that they do not provide value for money for the NHS – a move that sparked fury among health campaigners.

Only people with severe or profound hearing difficulties would be automatically eligible for help and up to 2500 people in North Staffordshire with age-related hearing loss could lose out. If the move was copied nationally, millions of people could be affected.

No national clinical guidance exists on hearing aids so local CCG’s can make independent decisions on whether they provide them or not – and in North Staffordshire this means that elderly people could be forced to plead with a local panel to get their hearing back.

North Staffordshire CCG Chief Operating Officer, Marcus Warnes, said: “The proposal to consider decommissioning hearing aid provision for those with mild to moderate hearing loss was first made at a planning workshop in January 2011 which was aimed at considering what, if any, services currently offered locally had little, or no, clinical value in terms of benefits to patients or improved health outcomes.”

“There are many interventions which are not routinely funded by the NHS and each CCG has a list of such ‘excluded and restricted’ procedures.
“Restricted procedures are those for which a threshold has been determined, or where eligibility criteria are in place meaning the intervention is funded by the local CCG but not universally available for all patients.

Marcus Warnes

Marcus Warnes

“Excluded procedures are not funded at all.
“There will in, all cases, be exceptions to this and CCGs have well-established processes in place to consider situations where patients can make an individual funding request on the grounds of exceptional circumstances to be considered by a local panel who will determine whether to support the request.”

People with mild hearing loss may experience difficulty hearing conversations in background noise. Those with moderate hearing loss could struggle to hear the TV at a normal volumes and may become isolated or withdrawn from social situations. Hearing loss has also been linked with depression and dementia.

Earlier this week, health chiefs revealed a £2bn black hole in the NHS budget for the coming year and services like cataract removal and hip replacements have already been cut in other parts of England.

Since North Staffordshire announced the plans to cut hearing aid services, which would save the NHS £1.2million, a petition has been launched by charity Action on Hearing Loss amassing 3,400 signatures. Local campaigners have been gearing up for two public meetings with health chiefs which are expected to be highly charged. Local Conservative and Labour activists have also joined forces to fight the proposed changes.

According to figures from Action on Hearing Loss, there are ten million people in the UK with hearing loss but only 1.4 million wear hearing aids. A further 600,000 have been given them but don’t use them; wasting millions of pounds of tax payer cash in the process. One of the reasons given for this apparent wastage is that hearing aids are often dispensed too late and are then hard to adjust to.

North Staffordshire stress that no final decision as been made and Mr Warnes said he was grateful for the feedback he had received so far.

He said: “The response so far has been tremendous and we couldn’t have asked for more. We opened up a dialogue with the public because it was vital that any decisions made over such a sensitive subject had the full input of the public and the feedback we have received so far will be essential in that.

“We are really appreciative of the voluntary organisations and charities that have taken the time to share the information with their members and networks and urge them to contact us and offer their thoughts on the proposals.

“Every single one of those comments is incredibly valuable to us and we will be thoroughly reviewing the feedback we have received.

“It’s important to reiterate at this point that no decision has been made.”

People can also respond to the consultation by completing a short survey.

By Andy Palmer, Deputy Editor. 

Andy is Chairman of the Peterborough and District Deaf Children’s Society and teachessign language in primary schools. Contact him on twitter @LC_AndyP

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