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NHS: Audiology

Volume 684: debated on Friday 14 July 2006

asked Her Majesty's Government:

When they will publish the action plan to reduce waiting times for audiology services referred to in Tackling Hospital Waiting: The 18 week patient pathway; and [HL6682]

Whether they will monitor the possible re-routing of direct access audiology referrals to ear, nose and throat consultants by general practitioners anxious to expedite their patients’ treatment; and [HL6683]

Given that referrals are subject to waiting time targets for assessments but not for the fitting of digital hearing aids, how they will ensure that audiology services do not prioritise appointments for assessment over appointments for fitting aids.[HL6684]

The Department of Health is continuing its work with stakeholders to develop a national action plan for adult hearing services and we aim to announce the publication of the action plan in the near future.

The department estimates that 80 per cent of referrals to adult hearing services from general practitioners are direct to audiology departments. We acknowledge the risk that there may be pressure to redirect these existing direct referrals to ear, nose and throat consultants in secondary care, as this way patients would be covered by the 18-week target. The measures that are being taken to address this risk are detailed on page 31 of the publication The 18 Week Patient Pathway: Delivery Resource Pack, which is available in the Library and on the department’s website at:

Referrals for the assessment and fitting for digital hearing aids are not subject to waiting times targets. We acknowledge that there are likely to be pressures in waiting times for audiology services, which is why we are in the process of developing the action plan. The department will be working with stakeholders to look at how best to support the National Health Service to do this.

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will issue commissioning guidance to ensure that existing levels of investment in adult audiology services are maintained while primary care trusts await the separate action plan promised by the Department of Health.[HL6839]

There is, and has been, much background work undertaken to support the agreement of a national action plan for adult hearing services, and we hope to announce details about how it will be taken forward in the near future.

The action plan will need to be scoped and developed with a range of stakeholders and may include information for commissioners. Service commissioners have a responsibility for commissioning services that promote their local population’s health and well-being, including those with hearing impairments.