Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by Liza Smeeton, Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (AUDIO 9)

  I am writing in response to you request for information about audiology services. I am Head of Audiology at Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

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

  1.  I feel that data, when mentioned in the press is averaged out across the country which paints a black picture for departments like mine where we have low waiting times. My waits are 6-8 weeks for all new referrals and a further 6-8 weeks for fitting of a hearing aid. Waits vary, even across regions and between neighbouring Trust's.

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

  2.  I agree that this is an issue in many areas. I feel that access can be improved through audiology being part of direct access and Choose & Book. I also strongly believe that referral pathways need tightening so that patients who simply need a hearing aid do not end up being referred to ENT, where they clog up their clinics, but are always referred directly to audiology. Under MHAS and Action on ENT a lot of good work into these areas was done. When these initiatives stopped so did the improvements.

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

  3.  We need to look at our processes to increase capacity and use lower bands of staff to do certain parts of the patient journey, eg repairs and simple adjustments of aids. In Barnsley we continually look at our appointment lengths to see if they can be reduced to create additional capacity. Reducing steps for the patients can also lead to a more efficient service.

Whether enough new audiologists are being trained?

  4.  Yes, but I wonder if, with the changes under Agenda for Change, we need to be training staff at a Band 4 level and increasing this element of our workforce. That is the plan for my department as staff leave. Having a changed skill mix, as nurses do, would provide a more effective and cost-competitive workforce.

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

  5.  The "hidden" wait in all audiology departments are the number of patients currently on the older type analogue hearing aids who are waiting to be changed over to digital aids. My department is no exception. The private sector could, under a model similar to the PPP model used under MHAS, be the solution to this. Once we are over this "hump" I feel in most areas there would be sufficient staff to provide a quality service.

  I hope this information is of use. I look forward to hearing the outcome of this enquiry.

Liza Smeeton

Head of Audiology, Barnsley Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

1 February 2007

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