asked Her Majesty's Government:
What is their assessment of the impact on waiting times for digital hearing aids of the ending of the public/private partnership in this area; and how the capacity provided by the independent sector under this scheme will be replaced; and [HL2887]
How they propose to integrate training, qualifications and standards between the National Health Service and the independent sector in delivering the Audiology Framework set out in the Department of Health document, Improving Access to Audiology Services in England; and [HL2888]
Whether they will set targets and dates for the number of patient pathways to be delivered under the Audiology Framework set out in the Department of Health document, Improving Access to Audiology Services in England, in order to ensure that waiting time targets are met; and [HL2889]
When they will introduce a national tariff for the provision of digital hearing aid services. [HL2890]
The current public/private partnership ended on 31 March 2007. The department is working with strategic health authorities (SHAs) to finalise the numbers of audiology pathways that will be commissioned in future, with the waiting time objectives set out in Improving Access to Audiology Services in England firmly in mind. These pathways will be commissioned in part from National Health Service providers and in part from the independent sector.
Some independent sector activity may be procured locally. In addition, the department is procuring activity on a national regional basis on behalf of local commissioners. The first of this activity—part of the independent sector treatment centre phase 2 diagnostics procurement—is due to come on stream shortly. Further activity will be procured nationally subject to the outcome of the current work with the SHAs. The waiting time objectives are set out in the aforementioned document and will drive local activity levels. Activity targets are not necessary in this context.
It is important that common standards should apply to NHS services whichever organisation provides them, and the department is working with NHS providers and the independent and voluntary sectors to ensure harmonisation. This work includes the development of education and training programmes for introduction during 2007-08. As the recent document made clear, the department is committed to considering the introduction of national audiology tariffs as soon as practicable bearing in mind the recommendations of the Lawlor review of payment-by-results.