Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by David Ormerod Hearing Centres (AUDIO 35)


  David Ormerod Hearing Centres (DOHC) was founded in 1961 and is one of the leading hearing aid dispensing companies in the UK with a growing market share (currently around 15%). The primary activities of the Company are testing of hearing and fitting of hearing aids to adults.

  DOHC works with Boots plc and specifically Boots Opticians. DOHC services are operating in over 100 High Street Hearing Centres nationwide within Boots Opticians; with an additional 50 Hearing Centres operating in stand alone high street stores or from within NHS Audiology Departments. The Company also operates a nationwide domiciliary service through a second brand Advanced Hearing Services. The DOHC Group employs 170 Hearing Aid Audiologists.

  DOHC also has a strategic partnership with Phonak who are the largest global hearing aid corporation and have a 30% worldwide market share.

  The Audiology market in the UK is dominated by NHS provision and the penetration of hearing aids fitted per head of population in the UK is second only to Scandinavia; however the more useful benchmark is perhaps a measure of usage which in the UK is significantly lower. One of the key determinates here is public perception of anything that is deemed to be "free" and therefore perceived of little value.

  The NHS fits around 700,000 units p.a. predicted to increase to 1,000,000 units p.a. by 2008. Statistical data produced by the Institute of Hearing Research indicates that early intervention in cases of hearing loss can significantly improve quality of life and can be preventative of medical conditions brought about by social exclusion. In contrast the independent market fitted approx 200,000 units commercially last year.

Whether accurate data on waiting times for audiology services are available?

  1.  There is no published data to indicate the true capacity and demand of NHS Audiology services. The British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists commissioned a report Suffering in Silence 2006 which shows waiting times for a first hearing aid to be well over 12 months. "The South East remains the worst place... between 73 and 74 weeks (to obtain a hearing aid)".

Why audiology services appear to lag behind other specialties in respect of waiting times and access and how this can be addressed?

  2.  No comment to make in this area.

Whether the NHS has the capacity to treat the numbers of patients waiting?

  3.  There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the NHS does not currently have the capacity to treat the numbers of patients in need of a hearing aid. Predicted demographic population changes will increase demand for what appears to be an already over stretched NHS Audiology service.

Whether enough new audiologists are being trained?

  4.  In May 2007 over 100 students will graduate with a BSc in Audiology and there is evidence that around 40% of these will look for a post in the private sector. DOHC has already started a database of students who have expressed an interest in working for the company on graduation.

  5.  The private sector is currently regulated by the Hearing Aid Council (HAC) which is primary legislation from 1968 amended in 1989. The HAC is part of the Hampton review and is likely to be abolished (there are currently approximately 1,400 Registered Hearing Aid Dispensers in the UK). Future and existing registrants are likely to come under the Health Professions Council (HPC) who will also be responsible for NHS registered audiologists. The HAC is currently developing a Foundation Degree as the future entry point for Hearing Aid Audiologists. This clearly paves the way for harmonisation of qualifications for the NHS and private sector.

  6.  DOHC has already established links with the key Higher Education Institutions and will offer appropriate clinical supervision for students following this route to increase the number of Hearing Aid Audiologists employed by the company.

  7.  It is unlikely that existing numbers of Audiologists being trained will cope with the combined demand in the public and private sector going forward. The Department of Health have indicated that they expect the demand for NHS hearing aids to be at 1000,000 units by 2008 in addition to the 200,000+ units fitted annually in the private sector.

How great a role the private sector should play in providing audiology services?

  8.  Key questions for the current NHS delivery model are: increasing patient numbers, levels of appropriately qualified staff, cost and location of service delivery.

  9.  The private sector can offer simple but creative solutions to these issues.

  10.  DOHC was one of two companies in September 2003 awarded the National Framework Public Private Partnership (PPP) contract in England for providing adult hearing aid services. This contract has been extended to 31 March 2007. The company worked with 48 NHS Trusts and provided a service to a total number of 24,000 patients primarily through high street locations.

  11.  The company has a strategy in place which would allow ramp up to cater for significantly more patient journeys per year based on the standard Modernised Hearing Aid Services (MHAS) protocol, or any subsequent revised fitting protocol.

  12.  Current PPP funding is no longer ring fenced and therefore the existing PPP activity has declined significantly. Where local NHS Trusts or Primary Care Trusts have secured funding to purchase further services, DOHC has worked to establish or continue existing services to meet those demands.

  13.  Through the experience of PPP, DOHC has identified a number of areas where greater efficiencies could be introduced into the service model thus creating greater capacity and offering value for money without compromising quality.

  14.  DOHC has a track record of being able to react quickly to market forces providing a high quality service working to given protocols. The company is committed to offering a client centred hearing aid audiology service on the high street, close to where people live and shop. This is further supported by our partnership with Boots Opticians. We feel that the private sector should be working in partnership with the NHS to alleviate the overwhelming demand on audiology services nationwide.

David Ormerod

Chief Executive, David Ormerod Hearing Centres

8 February 2007

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Prepared 16 May 2007