Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by Mrs Margaret L Howard (AUDIO 36)

  1.  This memorandum gives a brief account of my experience of various Audiology departments and waiting times for obtaining the new NHS digital hearing aids, my experience of purchasing private digital hearing aids outside the NHS and some thoughts I have on the private sector, the training of hearing therapists as well as audiologists.

  2.  My name is Margaret Lilian Howard, I am aged 75, divorced (twice), retired and live alone, my daughter lives nearby and helps me. I have been a single parent raising four children, prior to that I was a Local Government Officer for 18 years in administration, including working in a Public Health department for six years prior to the 1974 Local Government Reform Act, I have also been a builder/developer (held a NHBC certificate in my own right). I suffer from Menieres Disease and I had my first dizzy attack in 1953, until then I had perfect hearing. Since that date I have had periods of remission in between attacks, but with each attack I have suffered a loss of hearing in both ears until now I have a severe hearing loss. I am heavily reliant upon hearing aids for contact with the outside world. My last audiogram showed a 90 decibel loss in my right ear with a 80 decibel loss in my left ear. I have been a patient with the Audiology departments at the following hospitals:

    —  Royal South Hampshire hospital, Southampton—Issued with one hearing aid 1965 (the old headphone type), followed by one "behind the ear" analogue hearing aid in 1975. I attended as a patient from 1975 to 1978, and again from 2000 to 2003.

    —  Derbyshire Royal Infirmary, Derby—issued with two analogue hearing aids in 1991.

    —  Chesterfield Royal Hospital—issued with two BE54 analogue hearing aids in 1998 which I still have. I was a patient here from 1993 to 2000 and again from 2003 to 2006.

    —  Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham, Portsmouth—Waiting for an appointment which I understand from my GP on 6 February will be a two year wait.

  For a number of years I have been a member of both the Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) and the Menieres Society and I have been kept informed up to date by both bodies regarding the provision of NHS digital hearing aids, also news of what Parliament was proposing for the provision of such aids to patients. I do not expect to take priority over anyone else but I would have thought with the severe loss of hearing that I have sustained that by now that I should have been provided with two digital hearing aids by the NHS. Alas no! There was a three year wait at Southampton, and I have been waiting since March 2005 at Chesterfield—the policy of that audiology department is that new patients only are issued with NHS digital hearing aids regardless of the degree of hearing loss of existing patients. In February, 2006 I was told I would have a six to eight months wait, I moved back to Hampshire for health reasons in January, 2007 I was still waiting! I've recently asked my Hampshire GP for an audiology department appointment, he apologised and told me that there is a two year wait at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Portsmouth, the only hospital he could send me to, so once more I am on a waiting list. Perhaps hopefully after a seven year plus wait I might finally be provided with some. Nearly every hearing aid wearer that you could question (once that they have experienced a digital hearing aid) would tell you that the NHS analogue hearing aids are useless, they pick up background noise, they distort noise etc. With one in seven of the population experiencing some form of deafness (quoted from RNID information) and one in 33,000 people suffering from Menieres Disease (Menieres Society) which eventually leads to deafness, a hugh amount of money is wasted by the NHS on the supply of analogue hearing aids many of which are never worn. In desperation in March 2002 I searched on the internet for private hearing aid dispensers, also the price of various types of digital hearing aids. The cost of the same make of hearing aids varied considerably between firms, there appears to be hugh profits in the private section of hearing aid dispensers. I finally settled on a local private dispenser, and negotiated a bank loan with my bank (where my house deeds were deposited for safe keeping), and purchased two digital hearing aids at a cost of £2,770.00. The difference in hearing was remarkable, there was just no comparison, they brought me back into the land of the living, not perfect hearing, but much, much better than I had ever experienced with analogue aids. Every person with a hearing loss should be able to be supplied with a digital hearing aid, I could ill-afford to buy my private digital hearing aids as apart from owning my own property (fortunately which I could borrow against), I have no savings and I am in receipt of Pension Credit and Disability Living Allowance. Incidentally my digital hearing aids have cost me a further £500.00 in repairs which I can ill-afford.

  3.  My personal view is that the NHS being the largest purchaser of hearing aids in the world, by bulk buying should be able to greatly reduce the cost of digital hearing aids—why do they cost such a lot much more than PCS? Why cannot the NHS bring in some form of financial assessment so that if people could afford to make a financial contribution towards the supply of a NHS digital aid, they could be charged on a sliding scale, which could then provide further finance to perhaps train more audiologists and thus reduce the waiting time for the provision of NHS digital hearing aids. All this could be attended to by properly trained people within the NHS and thus save elderly gullible deaf/hard of hearing people being ripped off by some of the private dispensing firms. Incidentally one of the firms that I dealt with was run by an employed audiologist in the NHS, and I am sure there are many more similar businesses. With the country's aging population and an increase of deaf/hard of hearing patients attending Audiology departments all over England I can only see the situation worsening and waiting lists getting longer. If the private sector becomes involved, a middleman is introduced, more money is expended by the NHS in paying his/her fee, which should be put instead towards the training of more audiologists and the supply of digital hearing aids. Furthermore a most important member of the audiology department is the hearing therapist, I don't believe much in therapy but I was greatly helped by a hearing therapist and I think more type of this staff should be trained. To really understand deafness one either has to suffer from it or live with someone who is deaf/hard of hearing, because it is an invisible disability the majority of the public have very little patience with people who are deaf/hard of hearing and that is the reason for me submitting a memorandum to your committee, not just for me, but for the many people who are suffering in silence, often on their own, and not knowing where to obtain help from.

Margaret L Howard

8 February 2007

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