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March 5, 2003


From: The Bath Chronicle, UK - 05 Mar 2003

Hearing-impaired people in Taunton must wait longer for the latest digital hearing aids being provided free in other areas on the NHS. The Government has announced a £94 million plan to modernise hearing aid services throughout England, but the improvements are being phased in - and Taunton and Somerset NHS Trust is not yet on the list.

By April 2005 the very latest digital hearing aids will be available across the country for people who can benefit from them.

Hearing aids are currently used by 1.8 million people in England, including 18,000 children.

Digital hearing aids can process sound in ways not possible with the old analogue circuit aids. Sound levels can be tailored to suit the individual, with feedback and background noise minimised.

The Government first began making digital hearing aids available on the NHS in April 2000.

From April 2003, almost one-third of NHS audiology departments will be providing them.

A Department of Health statement said:

"These digital hearing aids cost the NHS up to £75 per aid and will be free to all NHS patients.

"Similar products currently cost people purchasing privately around £2,000."

The programme is funded by the Department of Health and managed by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf.

RNID chief executive John Low welcomed the latest announcement. He 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.

"The modernised audiology service will be based on digital hearing aid technology, which transforms the lives of people with hearing difficulties.

"Digital hearing aids offer an immensely better clarity of hearing, not possible with traditional aids. Research shows that digital hearing aids offer patients a 40 per cent improvement in hearing and quality of life."

The RNID project management team is now writing to all services in England not yet involved, outlining plans for the rollout and inviting applicants to join the programme in 2003/04 and 2004/05.

Taunton MP Adrian Flook is asking Taunton Deane Primary Care Trust when it will join.

A spokesman for the PCT, based in Wellsprings Road, said: "We are still waiting to hear when funding will be made available to this area."

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