High Street set to offer NHS hearing aids

NHS hearing aids are set to be made available – free of charge to NHS patients – on the High Street, under plans announced today by the department of health.

The Modernised NHS Audiology services will be able to work in partnership with selected High Street suppliers to provide an assessment and fitting service for "leading-edge digital hearing aids". The service offered will mirror that provided on NHS premises and will still be free of charge to NHS patients.

The move has been made possible under a new National Framework Agreement, which has been drawn up following a private sector pilot carried out for the NHS by Royal National Institute for Deaf People.

During the pilot, which took place last year in Leeds and Shropshire, some 400 patients were referred to specially trained and suitably equipped private sector dispensers.

Health Minister Stephen Ladyman said: "This is an excellent example of the government, voluntary sector and the private sector working together to provide a better service for the NHS patient. Not only will NHS patients have state of the art digital hearing aids provided free of charge but they will be able to obtain them in an increasing number of convenient locations."

RNID has worked closely with the Department of Health, the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency and the MRC Institute for Hearing Research in both the pilot project and in developing this National Framework Agreement.

John Low, RNID Chief Executive, said that organisation's priority was to ensure that everyone can "easily access high quality digital hearing aids regardless of where they live".

The Modernising Hearing Aid Service programme began three years ago. There are now 67 NHS hearing aid services fitting digital hearing aids and this month will see the 100,000th NHS patient fitted with a digital aid.

The commitment of a further £94 million to roll out the service nationwide, announced in February this year, means that all NHS hearing aid services in England will be modernised and fitting digital hearing aids by April 2005.

The NHS will also be able to benefit from further reductions in the cost of advanced digital hearing aids as a result of further negotiations headed by the RNID in partnership with the NHS Purchasing and Supply Agency. This will bring the average cost to the NHS of a moderately powered digital hearing aid to just over £65.


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