Hearing aids provide a lifeline to thousands of people with hearing loss, and can drastically improve quality of life. But despite the importance of hearing aids, since 2014 we’ve been fighting an unprecedented wave of proposed restrictions to hearing aid provision across England.
So far, 16 Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) – the bodies responsible for planning local healthcare provision – have considered restricting hearing aid provision. Thanks to the work of our Policy and Campaigns team and more than 12,000 of our supporters, who’ve spoken out through petitions, local consultation responses and events, we’ve successfully prevented cuts in 15 of the 16 areas that have proposed them.
The first – and worst – offender
The first CCG to propose restricting their access to hearing aids was North Staffordshire. In 2014 North Staffordshire proposed withdrawing access to hearing aids for people with mild and moderate hearing loss. While we were successful in protecting hearing aid provision for those with moderate hearing loss, eligibility is now subject to an additional test, and those with mild hearing loss are left without access to hearing aids. We remain determined to overturn this decision. Please let us know if you’ve been affected by these cuts.
Campaign wins across England
Following our campaign in North Staffordshire, we went on to successfully encourage 15 CCGs across England to abandon their proposals to restrict hearing aid services, including CCGs in South Staffordshire, Essex, Devon, Cornwall, South Norfolk and Worcestershire. We’ve used a variety of approaches to fight these cuts to services, from behind-the-scenes meetings to petitions. We’ve joined forces with MPs, councillors, local groups and the audiology community, and encouraged our supporters and the wider public to get involved in local consultation processes.
To take an example, when Mid Essex CCG announced proposals to restrict access to hearing aids for people with mild and moderate hearing loss, we responded quickly, voicing our opposition. Through submitting clinical evidence and participating in public meetings, we set out clear reasons why hearing aids shouldn’t be rationed. When Mid Essex decided to reverse their decision, they cited the strong opposition from the public via their consultation, which received over 1,200 responses.
Other areas such as Devon CCG proposed prescribing people one hearing aid instead of two. We joined forces with other professional bodies, including the audiology community, to oppose this decision. When the CCG launched a consultation, we supported local people, MPs and councillors to oppose the cuts and secured national media coverage opposing the proposal in the Observer. Following its consultation, the CCG stated it would not be implementing restrictions for hearing aids.
Without our dedicated supporters we wouldn’t have been able to tackle the numerous restrictions levelled against hearing aid cuts. An overwhelming amount of support and personal experience sent a clear message to commissioners about the vital importance of hearing aids.
Driving underpinning change
As well as reversing cutbacks in local areas, we’ve also been working with medical professionals and NHS England to ensure patients get the most out of their local audiology services, and to help prevent further cuts to hearing aid provision.
Last year, for the first time ever, the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence (NICE) published guidelines on adult hearing loss for clinicians. This publication was a crucial landmark as for the first time ever it pulls together key treatments for hearing loss. It includes a recommendation that hearing aids should be prescribed to all those who need them irrespective of their level of hearing loss.
As well as supporting the creation of guidelines for healthcare professionals, we also worked with NHS England to create guidance on how CCGs should run quality and cost-effective hearing services in their area. This is known as the Commissioning Framework. It provides CCGs with clear examples of ways to improve and run their services.
Both sets of guidelines have already proved invaluable tools for preventing further cuts to hearing aid services and encouraging commissioners to provide better quality audiology services.
What happens next?
Now all the necessary guidance is in place, we are looking at whether this is being translated into better outcomes for patients. We have carried out a major new investigation into audiology provision in England, and will be launching the findings shortly.
To be first to read our report and take action to improve your local provision, make sure you’re signed up to our Campaigns Network.