Richard Turner: Why hearing aid cuts should be reversed

Posted on April 15, 2015

I was completely shocked by the recent decision by North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to no longer provide free hearing aids to adults with a mild hearing loss.

In addition, adults with a moderate hearing loss will have to complete an unnecessary and inappropriate questionnaire to get theirs.

Since North Staffs CCG first announced they were considering this proposal, the charity Action on Hearing Loss and a wide range of professional and patient groups opposed those plans.

Over 6,500 people signed an online petition against them and local scrutiny committees rejected them, including the Healthy Staffordshire Committee.

But they ignored all that.

The CCG had announced that no restrictions would be introduced until financial year 2016/2017, but on February 27th they announced that they had brought forward their meeting to 4th March. They allowed just ten minutes in the meeting for a discussion and decision to be made on such an important topic.

The timing of this decision is particularly cynical. It seems like they brought forward the date to hide bad news with everyone focused on the general election and allowing just ten minutes to consider all the evidence is simply not enough.

The meeting went ahead without proper consultation from the public, healthcare professionals or the wider hearing loss community.

It also ignored the evidence presented by various charities, patients groups and organisations, who wholeheartedly disagree with the CCG’s decision that there is not enough evidence to support their provision for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.

There is, in fact, a wide body of evidence about the impact of this level of hearing loss on the individual and the benefits that hearing aids bring to people with mild or moderate hearing loss.

This decision is estimated to potentially affect 2,500 people in North Staffordshire, for whom hearing aids are a lifeline, and without them, their quality of life will undoubtedly suffer.

Even people with a mild or moderate hearing loss often struggle to follow conversations and communicate with other people, especially when there is loud background noise.

Hearing loss cuts you off from people and if it is not detected early and you are fitted with hearing aids, you are much more likely to withdraw from society, feel isolated, lose your confidence, suffer in the workplace and in many cases, experience depression and other mental health problems.

There is also increased risk of dementia among elderly people, as the hearing loss worsens and remains undetected.

The recent ‘Action Plan on Hearing Loss’ report by the Department of Health and NHS England clearly stated: “Early diagnosis and intervention are key actions that should make a real difference in reducing risks and attaining better hearing health outcomes throughout life”.

One of the key objectives of this Action Plan is to ensure that all people with hearing loss are diagnosed early and that they are managed effectively once diagnosed.

North Staffordshire CCG’s decision clearly contradicts the findings and key action objectives outlined in the NHS’s own Action Plan on Hearing Loss.

North Staffs also contradict their own objectives, which include improving prevention, early detection and effective management of those at increased risk, enhancing quality of life and improving health outcomes for people with long term conditions and ensuring people have the right care in the right place. Cutting hearing aids goes against all of that.

I work as a volunteer, supporting NHS hearing aid users in my local community. I see a lot of elderly people, most of whom have a mild or moderate hearing loss and often come to us with simple hearing aid problems. It means so much to them when we fix their hearing aids or give them crucial advice on maintenance.

Most of these elderly people simply couldn’t afford costly private hearing aids and their overall health and wellbeing would deteriorate rapidly without them.

We have an ageing population and hearing loss is an inevitable part of the ageing process. Rather than denying them the basics, we should embrace our older generation’s needs and support them to be full members of our society, not isolate them further with petty cuts to audiology.

By saving money in the short-term, North Staffordshire’s CCG will find themselves facing much greater costs over the longer term, as the knock-on effects caused by increased social and mental healthcare problems accumulate. It could also set a precedent for other CCGs around the country to follow suit. Let’s hope that they see sense soon and reverse this decision.

By Richard Turner

Richard blogs at his own blog, Good Vibrations and is a volunteer for Action on Hearing Loss

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