We successfully campaigned to keep hearing aids free on the NHS for everyone who needs them.
We did it! After 8 years of campaigning, the restrictions that prevented some people in North Staffordshire from accessing hearing aids on the NHS have now been lifted, following a U turn by Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Integrated Care Board.
Thank you to everyone who supported our campaign and helped us show North Staffordshire and other NHS commissioning groups that restricting provision to hearing aids is not an option.
Read on to find out more about our campaign together, and how we made hearing aids accessible to everyone that needs them.
Hearing aids are a lifeline to people with hearing loss and have been available on the NHS since 1948. But this lifeline was put at risk.
Starting in 2014, 14 clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) , who buy local hearing aid services for areas of England, announced proposals to stop giving NHS hearing aids to people with mild or moderate hearing loss. This was despite clear evidence of the benefits that hearing aids have for people with mild to moderate hearing loss.
With your help, we fought against each CCG proposal to restrict who gets hearing aids. As a result, 13 of the 14 CCGs agreed to keep providing hearing aids to everyone who needs them.
However, North Staffordshire went ahead and restricted the provision of hearing aids.
Our campaign in North Staffordshire
The policy in North Staffordshire meant that people in the area were forced to buy expensive hearing aids from private providers, or do without.
Not only were we campaigning against unfair restrictions in North Staffordshire, we also needed to prevent a dangerous precedent and threat to access to hearing aids for thousands of people with hearing loss.
Why hearing aids are so important
Hearing aids are cost-effective and have very clear clinical benefits for the people who wear them. In fact, they’re accepted to be the only viable treatment for people with adult-onset hearing loss.
Benefits of hearing aids
There is clear and comprehensive evidence of the clinical benefits of providing hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. Studies have shown that for people with mild to moderate hearing loss, hearing aids improve communication, relationships, self-confidence, social participation and overall health, and that they reduce depression and anxiety.
In 2018, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), which provides the government with guidance and advice on the cost-effectiveness of treatments, recommended that hearing aids should be provided to all adults whose hearing loss affects their ability to communicate.
There is also growing evidence linking the use of hearing aids to the prevention of other conditions, including depression and cognitive decline which, if untreated, can lead to dementia.
- 13 CCGs across England proposed to stop giving NHS hearing aids to people with “mild” or “moderate” hearing loss
- North Staffordshire began enforcing their policy, restricting the provision of NHS hearing aids for people with “mild” or “moderate” hearing loss.
- By 2016, with your help, we convinced all of the CCGs to abandon their plans and keep providing NHS hearing aids for all that need them – except North Staffordshire, who cited a lack of evidence in favour of hearing aids for mild-to-moderate hearing loss.
- A Cochrane review shows that hearing aids are an effective clinical treatment for “mild” and “moderate” hearing loss, and could improve the ability to take part in everyday life and general quality of life.
- A Lancet Commission on Dementia stated that hearing loss in midlife is the largest modifiable risk factor for dementia. Read more about the latest research in this area.
- The first NICE guidelines for hearing loss are published, which recommend offering hearing aids based on need and not the results of a hearing test.
- We wrote to North Staffordshire CCG highlighting the new evidence and guidance and the strong case to remove restrictions to hearing aids. We also wrote to the other 5 CCGs in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, emphasising the importance of providing hearing aids to all who need them.
- The six CCGs across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent carried out a public engagement process called Difficult Decisions, in early 2020 to find out local opinion on the provision of five treatments and services, including those for adults with hearing loss. They did this with a view to aligning policies – meaning the restrictive policy in North Staffordshire could spread across the county and affect thousands of people.
- In February we held a meeting in North Staffordshire with representatives from the CCGs and invited local people to share their views. A local Councillor, Charlotte Atkins, attended this event and spoke about her concerns that the CCGs should be “levelling up” their services, rather than “levelling down”.
- The public engagement process showed that public opinion backs providing hearing aids on the NHS for all that need them.
- In April, the CCG announced that the Difficult Decisions work would be paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
- In September, the CCG announced a second phase of Difficult Decisions and again, engaged with local people to understand their view on different services, including hearing aids.
- North Staffordshire CCG removed restrictions to hearing aid provision for people with “moderate” hearing loss but announced they still plan to review hearing aids for “mild” hearing loss, with the potential to extend this policy across the entire county.
- We welcomed this long overdue progress but wrote a letter calling on them to urgently go further and stop restricting access for patients with “mild” hearing loss, and for the other CCGs in the area to abandon any plan to restrict access.
- The remaining restrictions in North Staffordshire were lifted, following a U-turn by Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Integrated Care Board. Read more in our news story.