A recent committee meeting shows Staffordshire and Stoke clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) have yet to act on the overwhelming evidence of the benefits of hearing aids.
On 14 September, councillors within Staffordshire’s Healthy Select Committee, which monitors and evaluates local health decisions, questioned Marcus Warnes, the Accountable Officer for the six CCGs in Staffordshire and Stoke.
The Committee asked Mr Warnes what progress had been made in determining who will be eligible to receive hearing aids across the county, and when we are likely to hear back from the listening exercise carried out earlier this year, which gathered the experiences of local people when accessing hearing aids.
Mr Warnes indicated that due to Covid-19, the CCGs have not been able to publish their response to the listening exercise. He also stated that any formal consultation following on from the listening exercises would not take place until next year at the earliest.
As part of her questioning, Councillor Charlotte Atkins raised concerns over the increased risk of loneliness and isolation among people with hearing loss – particularly during lockdown, as face coverings and video and telephone calls become more prevalent. In his response, Mr Warnes spoke about Microsoft Teams, an online communication platform:
“The issue around whether during Covid have this particular subset of the population been impacted more than others – I think one interesting thing around doing things through [Microsoft] Teams is people can actually hear what you say. So we do have people with hearing impairments who actually when using Teams feel like they can hear what’s being said better than if they were at the back of a room with a hearing aid loop that didn’t work particularly well… So I think the technology we’re using at the moment has actually probably helped in terms of communication rather than hindered.”
Mr Warnes acknowledged that since North Staffordshire implemented its hearing aid policy in 2015, new evidence has been published in the form of a Cochrane Review and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines.
The Chair of the Committee picked up this point about the change in evidence and guidelines and asked the CCGs to “re-look at the decision or the process to get to the decision” for the “small but important section” of people in North Staffordshire that have been affected by hearing aid rationing.
While we know that technology can be beneficial, it can also act as barriers for people with hearing loss – particularly when reasonable adjustments are not made and people with hearing loss are not given the support that they need. Communication barriers are also likely to increase when people are not able to access to the medical equipment they need, in the form of hearing aids, and are unable to clearly lipread.
Ever since North Staffordshire proposed to restrict the provision of hearing aids it has been clear that they have not considered or understood the overwhelming clinical evidence that demonstrates the benefit that patients with mild and moderate hearing loss get from hearing aids. For the individual leading this process to say that people with hearing loss are benefitting from improved communication through the use of video calls underlines the woeful understanding of hearing loss that has run through this entire process.
In light of the evidence – which Mr Warnes pointed to, and which Action on Hearing Loss has repeatedly presented to the CCGs – we urgently call on:
- North Staffordshire CCG to reconsider rationing hearing aids
- the five other CCGs in the area to not adopt similar policies.
Another consultation process is not needed, as the CCGs have all of the evidence on the benefits of hearing aids and guidelines available to them. Similarly, at a time when money should be reserved to help with front-line Covid-19 efforts, another consultation process seems undeniably wasteful.
About our campaign
North Staffordshire currently stands alone in its decision to limit hearing aid access. While 12 CCGs have reacted to the clinical evidence and local opposition and have withdrawn their proposals to restrict access, the fear is that the other five CCGs in the Staffordshire and Stoke area could adopt North Staffordshire’s restrictive hearing aid policy. This could, in turn, become a precedent which other CCGs around the country follow.
We’ve been fighting hard with our campaigners to stop the rationing of hearing aids and keep them available on the NHS for everyone who needs them.
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