IM this article to a friend!

October 24, 2002

NHS hearing-aid waits “unacceptable”

From:, U.K
Oct. 24, 2002


By Steve Ford

There are massive variations in waiting times for NHS hearing aids, according to a health watchdog investigation, which found average waits of more than a year in one trust.

A report by the Audit Commission, published today (24/10/02), looked at problems with access to ear, nose and throat (ENT), and audiology treatment in 10 hospital trusts.

The commission said waiting times for these services varied greatly, but people were waiting too long for hearing aids in particular. The situation was described as “unacceptable”, but the report said it was difficult to gauge the size of the problem because no data was centrally collected on hearing-aid waits.

The commission highlighted one hospital trust where patients waited an average of a year from being referred to being fitted with a device.

The report warns that the introduction of digital hearing aids and an ageing population are likely to increase pressure on NHS audiology services, which get 220,000 new users each year. The commission has therefore recommended the introduction of waiting-time standards.

Patient waiting times for routine ENT outpatient appointments or surgery varied dramatically, even within the same trust, according to the report. The typical wait for a child having a grommet operation for glue ear can vary between 4 and 22 weeks, the commission said, while adults requiring septal surgery can wait between 9 and 70 weeks.

The commission says waiting times for ENT services are a longstanding problem for the NHS, but added it was not simply an issue of demand and capacity, but also of effective management at hospital and department level.

The report did, however, highlight that patients were “generally satisfied” with their care.

The commission also acknowledged the work of the government’s NHS Modernisation Agency in trying to improve access to ENT services. It said the programme launched two years ago had helped some ENT services run more efficiently.

Audit Commission Controller Sir Andrew Foster said, “Too many people are waiting too long for straightforward treatment that could greatly enhance their quality of life. In some cases, waits are exceptionally long, and in the case of audiology patients, there are no standards to help manage these waiting times.”

The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) said it strongly supported the introduction of national waiting time standards for audiology services, which it described as the “Cinderella service” of the NHS.

RNID Chief Executive Dr John Low said, “Waiting times on this scale really damage quality of life – waiting up to a year for hearing-aid services compounds patients’ sense of alienation and isolation. A great deal can be missed while waiting for a hearing aid – whether an anniversary dinner, a new film, or the first words a grandchild speaks.”

Coinciding with the publication of the Audit Commission report, the Department of Health has launched a national good practice guide for ENT services, which is based on the NHS Modernisation Agency’s programme.

© HMG Worldwide 2002