asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if she will make a statement on further development of the scheme for supplying the new behind-the-ear hearing aid under the National Health Service.
My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and I have consulted a wide range of interests including the professional and national voluntary bodies concerned with the deaf and hard of hearing. The general weight of opinion was that the scheme should now be extended to those normally in employment or receiving education, of whatever age. It was felt that there should, however, also be discretion to deal with other cases of exceptional need.In the light of this advice, I propose to notify health authorities that from 1st September 1975 the scheme may be extended to workers and students with discretion for individual cases of exceptional need.
The position will be kept under review in the light of progress, bearing in mind that we are engaged on a programme which may involve the issue of 1 million of the new hearing aids. Not all hearing aid centres will be in a position to extend the scheme immediately on 1st September, but those centres which have completed issues to the existing priority groups will be able to go ahead according to their capabilities.
My hon. Friend will recall that the first priority groups included war pensioners requiring aids for accepted disability; mothers with young children under the age of five years; children and young people up to age 18–21 if still receiving full-time education; people whose head-worn aids have been replaced by body-worn models on leaving school; people with an exceptional medical need not already included in these groups; and people with an additional severe handicap such as blindness.