The situation in North Staffordshire
In summer 2014, North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) announced proposals to end the provision of NHS hearing aids for people with mild or moderate hearing loss. In October 2015 it became the first, and only, part of England to cut hearing aid provision. This is unacceptable and flies in the face of local need and overwhelming clinical evidence, and we remain determined to overturn this unfair and unjustifiable cut.
Our campaign in North Staffordshire
Hearing aid restrictions in North Staffordshire are completely unjustified, and we're working hard to have them overturned. From the outset of our campaign, we've been overwhelmed by the strength of public support.
- We provided an overwhelming evidence base showing the importance and effectiveness of hearing aids.
- Over 6,500 people signed a national petition against the CCG’s original proposals, which would have seen provision ended for people with both mild and moderate hearing loss.
- Plus, 400 members of the audiology community wrote an open letter to the CCG.
- The CCG ran an 'engagement exercise’ seeking local views. The process was often inaccessible to people with hearing loss, but still many people living in North Staffordshire managed to engage.
- We worked closely with the local health scrutiny committee, the Healthy Staffordshire Select Committee, to ensure that it scrutinised the process that the CCG was undertaking.
- Local supporters demonstrated outside a CCG board meeting, took part in delivering our national petition to the CCG’s head office and secured local media coverage.
North Staffordshire's response
Despite all of this, the CCG announced in 2015 that it would proceed with a slightly adjusted proposal to cut provision for just those with mild hearing loss.
Over 6,000 local people responded to a fresh petition, which secured a debate on the issue at a full county council meeting. For the first time we were able to publicly set out our the case and highlight the CCG’s mishandling of evidence. As a result of this, the Healthy Staffordshire Select Committee established an Inquiry Day to look in detail at the evidence. This led to the remaining CCGs in South Staffordshire rejecting similar proposals, but North Staffordshire pressed on, and the restrictions have been in force since 1 October 2015.
Our continuing campaign
We remain determined to overturn the policy in North Staffordshire. The CCG was directed by the Healthy Staffordshire Select Committee to report back to them on the impact of the policy one year on from its introduction, and in November 2016 it appeared before the committee to do this. But the Committee was disappointed that the CCG had failed to carry out its instructions properly: merely reporting on the number of people affected as opposed to the impact that removing the provision of hearing aids from people, who in some cases have previously been given them, has had on their wider health and wellbeing.
As a result of this, the Committee resolved to refer the matter to the Secretary of State for Health – only the second time in over 15 years that it has exercised this power. This is a positive move. We're hopeful that this step, combined with the recent publication of NHS England’s Commissioning Guidelines on adult onset hearing loss and the development that is under way by NICE of a quality standard on adult onset hearing loss, plus the recent government announcements criticising attempts by CCGs to ration health services, will finally make the CCG’s policy untenable and will see a return to the provision of NHS hearing aids for all those who need them in North Staffordshire.