However the provision of NHS hearing aids is under threat and we need your help to fight the restriction of NHS hearing aids across Staffordshire.
What’s the current situation?
In 2015 North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) became the first part of England to restrict the provision of hearing aids, denying access to patients with a mild and or moderate hearing loss who would benefit from hearing aids. The decision was made in the face of the overwhelming evidence which shows that hearing aids are clinically effective and cost effective for the NHS.
Under the current policy implemented by North Staffordshire CCG:
• NHS hearing aids are not routinely available to adult patients with a mild hearing loss
• These patients are still be eligible for free NHS hearing tests, although no other treatment is available
• Adults with a moderate hearing loss are subject to unjustified restrictions based on a hearing loss questionnaire – which should not be used to decide hearing aid eligibility, so many people who could benefit from hearing aids are denied access
• The other five CCGs provide hearing aids on the basis of need and do not restrict their provision - following all the medical evidence and national guidance on hearing loss.
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.
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:
• Stafford and Surrounds
• Cannock Chase
• East Staffordshire
• South East Staffordshire and Seisdon Peninsula
The six Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), the organisations that buy NHS services for the patients in their areas, across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent recently concluded a public engagement process where 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 already in place in North Staffordshire are replicated across the rest of Staffordshire and Stoke.
This process finished on March 1st, but you can find further details, including information on the survey ran by the CCGs, at https://www.staffordsurroundsccg.nhs.uk/get-involved/consultation-and-engagement/difficult-decisions.
During this consultation 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.
What were the CCGs saying about hearing aids?
During the public engagement the CCGs were reviewing their policy on hearing aids, with the clear potential to impose restrictions. The current policy in North Staffordshire affects those with a hearing loss between 20-55db – this is described as mild-to-moderate hearing loss but does not reflect the difficulty that they 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 and the worse the hearing loss is within this range the more difficulty the individual is likely to have.
What happens next?
The CCGs are currently studying the responses to the consultation and will compile these responses into a publically available report. However we do not expect them to make a substantive announcement on their next steps until late summer. The CCGs will be deciding which service changes they want to take to a full, formal public consultation. So we do not expect the CCGs to further restrict hearing aid provision without further engagement with the public.
Action on Hearing Loss will continue to engage with the CCGs during the process and we will, of course, campaign vigorously against any formal proposal to restrict the provision of NHS hearing aids.
What can I do?
Following the engagement process we are not certain what will happen next. So what we do will depend on how the CCGs react to the public response to their proposals. If you would like to be kept updated on the fight to defend NHS hearing aids, and our other campaigning work, then you can sign up to our Campaigns Network
Why should the CCGs provide hearing aids?
There is clear and comprehensive evidence of the clinical benefits of providing hearing aids for people with mild to moderate hearing loss. For people with mild or moderate hearing loss, studies have shown that hearing aids improve communication, relationships, self-confidence, social participation and overall health, and that they reduce depression and anxiety.
In June 2018 the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) which is the Government’s expert body providing guidance and advice on the cost effectiveness of treatments – which CCGs are meant to adhere to – has recommended that hearing aids are provided to all adults whose hearing loss effects their ability to communicate. North Staffordshire’s policy directly contradicts this guidance.
There is also a growing body of evidence linking the provision of hearing aids to the prevention of other conditions, including depression and cognitive decline which, if untreated, can lead to dementia.