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Hearing Impaired: Health Services

Volume 465: debated on Tuesday 23 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what assessment his Department has made of the impact of the removal of the exemption for audiology from the 18 week GP referral to assessment target on patients; and if he will make a statement.; (159234)

(2) what assessment his Department has made of the impact of the removal of ring-fenced funding for the NHS hearing aid services on patients; and if he will make a statement;

(3) what safeguards are in place to ensure that the contracting-out of audiology services to the private sector does not damage NHS services; and if he will make a statement;

(4) what (a) financial analysis, (b) review of current audiology services and (c) evidence was used when writing his Department’s audiology plan;

(5) how follow-up care will be provided for those using the independent sector for NHS audiology treatment; how such patients will be assessed; how the quality of (a) service and (b) the hearing aids dispensed to such patients will be monitored; and if he will make a statement.

There has been no change to the position in relation to audiology services and the 18 week target.

The most complex audiology cases, those properly referred to Ear Nose and Throat Departments for surgical or medical consultant-led care, will be covered by the target of treatment within 18 weeks of referral by December 2008. The remaining routine adult hearing loss cases are not included in the 18 weeks target and should be assessed within six weeks by March 2008. This is in line with the diagnostic waiting time milestone on which local commissioning plans are based.

No assessment has been made of changes to the funding mechanism for national health service hearing aid services. Funding of £125 million over the five years of the Modernising Hearing Aid Services programme was made available to enable services to modernise the way that they operated and routinely fit digital hearing aids.

Current funding for audiology services, along with the majority of other services, is provided through the general allocations to national health service trusts and primary care trusts (PCTs). It is the responsibility of local health organisations to allocate resources to audiology services based on their knowledge of the needs of their local populations and the resources available.

The Department developed the national framework for audiology “Improving Access to Audiology Services in England”, published in March 2007 using views and evidence from a wide range of stakeholders. A copy is available in the Library. Nine development sites were also used to develop good practice aimed at improving access to audiology services through commissioning, service redesign, choice, information and incentives.

As set out in “Improving Access to Audiology in England”, additional capacity is needed to address long waiting times for some audiology services. PCTs are responsible for commissioning the full range of health services for their local populations including audiology and for ensuring that they meet their capacity needs through improving existing NHS.