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February 5, 2003

Hearing services 'lag behind'

From: BBC, UK - 05 Feb 2003

Boy being tested
Hearing impairment affects 15% of the population

Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK in providing care for people with hearing problems, according to a report.

The review of audiology services was commissioned by the Scottish Executive in 2001.

It acknowledged a general perception that NHS Scotland uses inferior procedures, inferior technology and has high waiting times.

The cost of bringing services up to standard is estimated at about £30m.

The advisory body which compiled the report described the situation as "not encouraging".

The Public Health Institute of Scotland said audiology services were at the bottom of the list of priorities because they rarely resulted in a patient's death.

The report came as the Scottish Executive announced an £8m investment in hearing services.

Deputy Health Minister Mary Mulligan said the cash would be spread over four years to "pump prime" the service on the back of the report.

Ms Mulligan said: "Hearing impairment is an issue which affects 15% of the population and we must start making strides in alleviating the problems faced in this area."

She said the executive already knew about shortages of audiology equipment and had invited health chiefs to bid for cash from a £1.5m fund which was announced last month.

Project director

She also said health boards received an average budget increase of 7.2% in 2002-03, some of which could be used to bring in the recommendations.

And she said the executive would appoint a project director as well as asking health boards to draw up action plans for hearing aid services.

Dr John Low, chief executive of the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) welcomed the executive's investment.

He said: "Modernising audiology services in Scotland based on digital hearing aids technology will transform people's lives.

"Over 170,000 people in Scotland depend upon NHS hearing aids and tests show that the modern digital hearing aids, which will become available as part of this audiology modernisation, deliver a 40% increase in patient benefit."

Mr Low added: "The RNID has campaigned for and worked with the executive to research current levels of audiology services and we look forward to seeing the implementation of these recommendations throughout the NHS in Scotland."

An executive spokesman said the new cash would go towards training staff in the use of digital hearing aids as well as buying the aids for patients.

He said: "Clearly individual patients will need to be assessed and the prescription given to them will depend on their condition."