Old name, new purpose: why we’ve gone back to RNID

Save NHS hearing aids in Staffordshire

We continue to fight the restriction of NHS hearing aids across Staffordshire.

We are calling for North Staffordshire CCG to immediately stop restricting access to NHS hearing aids and for the other CCGs in the area to abandon any plan to restrict access.

If you live in North Staffordshire and have been denied hearing aids, we want to hear from you. Please get in touch with us by emailing campaigns@rnid.org.uk

Why we are campaigning

In 2015, North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) restricted the provision of hearing aids, denying access to patients with a mild or moderate hearing loss who would benefit from them. 

The decision was made in the face of the overwhelming evidence that shows that hearing aids are clinically effective and cost-effective for the NHS.

In January 2021 the CCG approved a recommendation to remove any restrictions for patients with moderate hearing loss. From mid-February 2021, hearing aid providers in the area will be able to work to the new policy.

Under the CCG’s current policy:

  • NHS hearing aids are not routinely available to adult patients with mild hearing loss. These patients are still eligible for free NHS hearing tests, although no other treatment is available.
  • As a result, many people who could benefit from hearing aids are denied access.

We have campaigned against this unfair restriction. But despite your support and our best efforts, North Staffordshire CCG continues to restrict the provision of hearing aids.

A growing threat to free NHS hearing aids

There are five other CCGs providing healthcare across the county of Staffordshire, none of which have imposed restrictions on the provision of hearing aids – yet. 

They are:

  • Stoke-on-Trent
  • Stafford and Surrounds
  • Cannock Chase
  • East Staffordshire
  • South East Staffordshire and Seisdon Peninsula.

The six CCGs, the organisations that buy NHS services for the patients in their areas, across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent carried out a public engagement process in January and February 2020 called Difficult Decisions. They spoke to local residents about the provision of five treatments and services, including those for adult patients with hearing loss. 

The CCGs are trying to align their policies – which could mean that the restrictions in place in North Staffordshire are replicated across the rest of Staffordshire and Stoke. 

During the public engagement process, the CCGs were reviewing their policy on hearing aids, with the clear potential to introduce restrictions. At the time, the policy in North Staffordshire affected those with hearing loss between 20dB and 55dB – this is described as mild-to-moderate hearing loss but does not reflect the hearing difficulty that an individual may have.

Someone with this level of hearing loss is likely to have difficulty following conversations against even a low level of background noise without hearing aids.

During the public engagement period, we shared the survey with our members and supporters and encouraged as many as possible to respond. We also held a public meeting to allow people with hearing loss to put their concerns directly to the CCG.

Thank you to everyone who took part.

Public opinion backs free NHS hearing aids

The CCGs published a summary of the responses they received during Difficult Decisions and the result were emphatic: the local population demonstrated that they want NHS hearing aids to remain free at the point of delivery for people with mild and moderate hearing loss.

The CCG’s summary noted that 338 of the 569 survey responses discussed hearing loss – more than any of the other conditions involved. Only 2% of the respondents provided a submission in disagreement with the NHS providing hearing aids to mild and moderate hearing loss – and this was the fact that hearing aids can be purchased privately (ignoring the prohibitive cost for many patients of securing private provision). In contrast the most popular views cited on hearing loss were all in support of the provision of hearing aids – with six different pro-hearing aids themes cited by 10% of respondents.

Support for the provision of hearing aids was the summary for each of the six CCG areas as well as across service users, likely future service users, healthcare professions and other interested parties.

As the CCGs themselves summarised:

“Service users highlighted that accessing hearing aids is important as it improves hearing, patient social life, wellbeing, and quality of life. Concerns over the lack of access were also raised. The key themes raised tended to be in support of funding the service for all patients.”

The decision to remove restrictions for people with moderate hearing loss

After we saw the overwhelming support in the results of the Difficult Decisions engagement process we wrote to North Staffordshire CCG asking them to reinstate hearing aids immediately. Download our formal letter to North Staffordshire CCG.

Since then the North Staffordshire CCG Governing Body have approved a recommendation to remove the current restrictions to hearing aid provision for people with ‘moderate’ hearing loss.

This progress is hugely welcome, though also hugely overdue. This is something RNID has been calling for since this policy was introduced six years ago. Since then, many have found themselves without access to vital hearing aids and at increased risk of social isolation.

However, we’re calling on the CCG to urgently go further and remove the restrictions to hearing aids for people with hearing loss categorised as ‘mild’ as well.

Guidelines and evidence are very clear that hearing aids are cost effective and of proven benefit for people with all levels of hearing loss and should not be restricted. The response from the public was also clearly in favour of making hearing aids accessible to anyone who needs them, regardless of their level of hearing loss.

Therefore there is no clinical justification to maintain this policy or to waste further time and resources by taking it to further review.

What happens next

Despite our attempts, the CCGs have reiterated that they will include the suggestion to maintain and extend hearing aid restrictions for those with mild hearing loss in their full public consultation before making any changes to the way services are delivered. They have also said that they are not planning to run this consultation immediately, instead wanting to wait until after the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But this means that patients in North Staffordshire will continue to be denied NHS hearing aids.

We believe that the public response to Difficult Decisions was so emphatic that further consultation on hearing aids will not provide the CCGs with a different answer. Indeed, further consultation on hearing aids would simply be a futile waste of time and money for the CCGs.

We now know that:

• The clinical evidence supports the provision of NHS hearing aids.
• The value for money evidence supports the provision of NHS hearing aids.
• Local public opinion supports the provision of NHS hearing aids.

We are therefore calling for North Staffordshire CCG to immediately stop restricting access to NHS hearing aids and for the other CCGs in the area to abandon any plan to restrict access.

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