Some people are waiting more than two years for new hearing aids on the NHS in England, an MPs’ report has said.
The House of Commons Health Committee said urgent action was needed to clear a backlog of around half a million people waiting for hearing aids.
It added that not enough priority had been given to the supply of new-style digital hearing aids by the government or local Primary Care Trusts.
And the committee said it was ‘surprised’ the authorities failed to anticipate a surge in demand after the introduction of the digital devices, which are far superior to older analogue aids.
About one in seven people in England – around 7 million in total – are affected by hearing loss.
But the NHS is currently able to supply and fit digital aids to only about 500,000 adults a year, said the report.
It called for extra NHS capacity to clear the backlog and raised concerns over evidence that many NHS-trained audiologists are unable to find jobs.
The committee said that audiology should be added, as soon as possible, to the list of health services covered by the government’s target to cut waiting times from referral to treatment to 18 weeks by December 2008.
Dr John Low, Chief Executive of RNID, the charity representing the UK’s nine million deaf and hard of hearing people, said: ‘It’s a disgrace that audiology has been excluded from the general 18 week waiting time target.
‘No-one should have to wait more than 18 weeks – let alone two years, as in some cases – when digital hearing aids can literally transform their lives.
‘RNID welcomes the committee’s call for a maximum 18 week wait to have a hearing aid fitted following RNID’s campaign. The Department of Health must act now to achieve this.
‘However the NHS will never reach this target unless capacity within the audiology system is urgently increased, in line with government commitments.’