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February 14, 2003

It's better to be deaf in Berks

From: Bucks Free Press, London - 14 Feb 2003

By Michelle Fleming

PARTIALLY deaf Bill Purdie is furious he is being refused revolutionary hearing aids handed out freely on the NHS a mile across the river in Berkshire.

Mr Purdie, 84, believes the digital aids would transform his life, but is told he cannot have them because he lives in Buckinghamshire just outside the NHS catchment area for the devices.

He branded the NHS's staggered introduction of the Government digital hearing aid scheme as 'Medical Apartheid'.

Mr Purdie, of West Street, Marlow, fumed: "This is absolutely terrible. They should do it for everyone or not bother at all. The NHS was not invented to give sectional privileges to some and not to others. It's supposed to be a national health service."

Mr Purdie, who is partially deaf in both ears, endures a noisy nightmare every time he steps outside his front door.

Digital hearing aids can be adjusted to process sound in ways not possible with the analogue circuit aids he uses now.

He said: "The traffic noise here is extremely bad with the school. Times are when I cannot hear a thing except a loud rumbling. When I go out on the street I'm blocked out with the traffic. I can't even hear other people talk."

He added: "It absolutely would transform my life. All this noise would be eliminated."

Mr Purdie inquired about digital hearing aids after seeing a television programme.

But he was outraged to learn he may have to wait until 2005 to be fitted by South Bucks NHS while his Berkshire neighbours across the bridge can get them free on the NHS now. Aids can cost up to £2,000 paid for privately.

Mr Purdie railed: "I'm not going to be able to afford that as a pensioner. Isn't that what the NHS is there for? It's like refusing people a wooden leg because they don't live in a certain area."

But this week Richard Burton, spokesman for South Bucks NHS which covers Marlow, vowed it was pushing Government to make aids available to South Bucks' patients as soon as possible.

He said aids were handed out in some areas across the country including across the river which falls under the Royal Berkshire and Battle Hospitals NHS Trust as part of a Government pilot scheme.

South Bucks NHS Trust asked to take part but was turned down because of its 'unsuitable geographical area'. Berkshire was among areas chosen for trials.

He added: "Unfortunately we have not been lucky yet but we will keep trying and will be doing our best to get on board. We are doing what we can to get hold of these hearing aids for people in South Bucks and once we do we will let users know."

A Government document said South Bucks patients should be provided with digital aids by the national target of April 2005 although it may be earlier.

South Bucks NHS Trust is not included in the latest aid provision targets set for April 2003.

Some 1.8 million people use hearing aids in England including 18,000 children.

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