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February 7, 2003

Hi-tech hearing aids made available

From: BBC, UK - 07 Feb 2003

The aids can be tailored to individual needs

Thousands of people who are deaf or hard of hearing will get free new digital hearing aids on the NHS.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn will announce on Friday that £94m is to be made available to fund the scheme.

Research has shown that digital hearing aids offer patients a 40% improvement in hearing and quality of life.

Unlike the old-style analogue devices they can be adapted to suit the individual and adjusted to cope with different sound environments.

Background noise, for instance in a restaurant can be suppressed, and feedback is minimised, thereby stopping the aid from 'whistling' when turned up.

In April 2000, the government began making digital hearing aids available on the NHS for the first time.

From April this year a third of NHS audiology departments will be providing them.

The new funds will mean that digital aids will be available in every hearing aid service throughout England by April 2005.

There are 1.8 million hearing aid users, including 18,000 children, who stand to benefit.

The Department of Health is working with the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) to introduce the changes in all parts of the country.

John Low, chief executive of the RNID, said: "This is brilliant news for millions of deaf and hard of hearing people who have been demanding better hearing aids for many years.

"At last there will be a world-class NHS hearing aid service throughout England.

"Digital hearing aids offer an immensely better clarity of hearing, not possible with traditional aids."

Digital hearing aids can cost £2,000 if bought privately, but the NHS will pay £75 for each one and provide them free of charge to patients.