02 December 2004

Four year wait for hearing aids

Hearing impaired people in the United Kingdom must wait up to four years for hearing aids from the public health system. On average, the wait on the long waiting lists for hearing aids is almost one year, according to a British survey.

The survey, carried out for the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists, paints a bleak picture of the state of hearing aids dispensing across the country.

In many hospitals, the waiting list is so long that hearing impaired patients must wait on average 47 weeks to receive their hearing aids. But much longer waiting times are common.

In more than one third of the hospitals in England, the wait is longer than a year. In 80 percent of hospitals in Wales, the wait is longer than the UK average. And in two hospitals in Wales the wait is four years.

In Scotland, patients in 40 percent of the hospitals must wait longer than the UK average. The same is true at 50 percent of the hospitals in Northern Ireland.

The waiting lists in the National Health System are in contrast to the service in private hearing clinics where treatment with hearing aids is often provided in a matter of days.

"In the Republic of Ireland, patients are given a voucher and can take it to any hearing aid dispenser - such a scheme here would be more economical and faster", said a spokesman for The British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists.

The Royal National Institute of the Deaf, RNID, urges caution, however, while pointing to drawbacks in turning over responsibilities of the public health system to private clinics.

"RNID would be concerned that patients receive quality assessment and fitting of digital hearing aids from sufficiently skilled and disciplined practitioners - mirroring NHS standards. We would not want to see a return to the days when patients received poor assessment and minimal rehabilitation in the rush to reduce the waiting lists", RNID CEO Dr John Low said in an RNID statement.

Most hospitals say that the long waiting lists are caused by the introduction of new digital hearing aid technology starting in 2000. While many patients want to substitute the new types of hearing aids for their old analogue devices, the hospitals must also meet the demand from new patients who have not previously been treated with hearing aids.

Source: www.bshaa.com and www.rnid.org.uk, September 2004

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