NHS hearing services are being scaled back in England an investigation by campaigners suggests. As many as 4 in 10 audiology units have reported cuts in services.
The group, Action on Hearing Loss, obtained data from 128 hospitals and found that more than 40% of them had seen cuts in the past 18 months. The study found evidence of rises in waiting times and reductions in follow-up care.
This report is the latest in a growing number to indicate that front-line care is being rationed as the health service struggles with finances. The NHS is in the middle of a £20bn five-year savings drive. The government believes the savings can be made by increasing productivity.
Paul Breckell from Action on Hearing Loss said “making savings from hearing service cuts right now is a false economy because it will only lead to higher NHS and social care costs to support people with untreated loss in the long run”. In the past year reports have suggested everything from hip and knee operations to eye surgery is being cut. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Action on Hearing Loss asked all 135 hospitals with audiology units whether they had to scale back services. 128 hospitals replied with 43% reporting some kind of cut.
The evidence indicated that common problems included rises in waiting times and reductions in follow-up appointments which are vital to helping people adapt to their hearing aids and a lack of specialist staff to deal with complex cases.
Action on Hearing Loss chief executive Paul Breckell said “people with hearing loss have the right to expect the very best local services, so it’s concerning that so many audiology departments have already felt the impact of budget cuts. Making savings from hearing service cuts right now is a false economy because it will only lead to higher NHS and social care costs to support people with untreated loss in the long run”.
Health Minister Lord Howe said “It is important that patients get high quality audiology services. We are working with stakeholders, including Action on Hearing Loss, to set out what needs to be done in the future to improve results for hearing loss in adults and children”.