Audiology and adult hearing services in particular are mainly accessed directly by primary care and are therefore predominantly outside the scope of the 18-week pathway, which focuses on changing traditional hospital consultant pathways. A separate national action plan is being developed on improving access to adult hearing services. We have not speculated what effect exclusion from the 18-week pathway will have on waiting times for people needing a hearing aid.
The Department of Health is continuing its work with stakeholders to develop the national action plan for adult hearing services, and we aim to announce the publication of the action plan in the near future.
A number of initiatives have been introduced through the modernising hearing aid services programme to increase capacity to deliver audiology services in England. These are the national framework contract (public/private partnership) to bring in additional independent sector capacity, the development of a new degree to help to address the shortage of audiologists, and the introduction of Hearing Direct, which provides follow-up care and advice for some hearing aid users.
From April 2005, the 164 National Health Service audiology departments have been able to routinely assess for and fit digital hearing aids. It is for primary care trusts to ensure that their local population benefits from the modernised services.