Select Committee on Health Written Evidence

Evidence submitted by East Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (AUDIO 8)

  East Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC) is the statutory body responsible for scrutinising health services and health issues affecting residents of East Sussex. The HOSC's membership comprises County Councillors, Borough and District Councillors and representatives from the local voluntary sector. This evidence is submitted on behalf of the committee by its Chairman, Cllr Bob Lacey.


  HOSC members had identified various examples of patients waiting considerable lengths of time for diagnosis and treatment in Audiology, suggesting that there could be a significant problem for local people in terms of access to these services.

  The HOSC made contact with the two local Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), East Sussex Downs and Weald PCT and Hastings and Rother PCT, in October 2006 to determine the actual situation with regard to waiting times. HOSC has also carried out some initial research into the issue.

Waiting times data for Audiology—accuracy

  1.  Enquiries to the PCTs revealed that in Hastings and Rother, waiting times at the Conquest and Bexhill hospitals are:

    —  New patients: 16-20 weeks (215 patients).

    —  Reassessment/upgrade: up to 58 weeks (327 patients).

  In East Sussex Downs and Weald, waiting times at Eastbourne District General Hospital are:

    —  New patients: 10 months (616 patients).

    —  Reassessment/upgrade: 6-8 months (692 patients).

  2.  These figures suggest that waiting times data is routinely collected in relation to both new patients and those waiting for reassessment/upgrade. However, anecdotal reports suggest that some patients are waiting longer than the official figures suggest, casting some doubt over the accuracy of the data.

  3.  East Sussex residents also use services provided in Brighton and Hove. Anecdotal evidence suggests that waiting times there are also lengthy.

Reasons for lengthy audiology waits and how this can be addressed

  4.  The PCTs have indicated that they are concerned about the disparity in waiting times between the different hospital sites and regard the wait of over a year for reassessment/upgrade at the Conquest and Bexhill hospitals as unacceptable.

  5.  East Sussex HOSC understands that there is a national problem with lengthy waiting times in audiology. This appears to be caused by the advent of new technology and an ageing population generating additional demand, coupled with a lack of NHS audiologists to meet this demand. There is also a question over whether sufficient funding has been put into addressing the issue and whether alternative service models have been adequately investigated.

  6.  For example, HOSC research identified a GP Practice in Kent which has obtained the services of a private sector audiologist at no charge to see a proportion of the practice's Audiology referrals within the surgery. This has been achieved under practice based commissioning arrangements and has reduced waits, saved money, and enabled patients to be seen closer to home. It would seem to be a model worth further exploration.

  7.  The PCTs in East Sussex have identified allocations for patients to be seen by independent sector providers during 2007-08 which they expect to reduce waiting times significantly. HOSC will be following up with the PCTs to determine how quickly and by how much such an approach will reduce waiting times for patients.

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

  8.  East Sussex HOSC can confirm that the PCTs in East Sussex intend to source additional capacity from the independent sector in 2007-08 to reduce waiting times. This implies that the NHS locally does not have sufficient capacity to treat the numbers of patients waiting.


  9.  East Sussex HOSC can confirm that this is an issue of concern to local people and that evidence provided by the PCTs confirms anecdotal reports of lengthy waits for audiology services.

  10.  East Sussex HOSC welcomes this national enquiry into audiology services. HOSC members remain concerned that such lengthy delays in patients accessing audiology services can be detrimental to their wider health and quality of life.

Cllr Bob Lacey OBE

Chairman, East Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee

1 February 2007

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