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May 16, 2007

Patients in Sussex wait longest for hearing tests

From: The, UK - May 16, 2007

By Andy Tate

The hard of hearing in Sussex are facing the longest waits in the country for a hearing test, a report by MPs revealed today.

The Health Select Committee criticised as "unacceptable" the 11 months that people in the South East Coast health area - covering Sussex, Surrey and Kent - are being made to wait.

Patients were being condemned to a "reduced quality of life" by a failure to fit them quickly with digital hearing aids, the committee said.

The region's average waiting time for a hearing test, at 45 weeks, was the longest anywhere in England, the report found.

Of the 16,101 patients in the area awaiting an assessment at the end of last year, no less than 79 per cent - 12,742 people - had been waiting longer than 13 weeks, the current benchmark.

Yet, the report said, the Department of Health (DoH) had excluded audiology from the list of treatments that must be made available within 18 weeks under new targets.

It concluded: "This is particularly unacceptable since the hearing aids are so effective."

Earlier this year, the DoH told all NHS trusts to ensure people with routine hearing problems are assessed for a hearing aid within six weeks.

Primary care trusts (PCTs) were advised to set up 'one-stop shops' to speed up assessment and fitting and to use the private sector to help tackle demand.

However, yesterday's report accused the DoH of failing to anticipate the inevitable surge in demand from the introduction of digital aids.

Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP for West Worthing, said: "Waiting so many weeks for a half-hour assessment is wrong.

"People should get tests straight away. They ought to be able to get a modern digital hearing aid in a small number of months.

"Someone aged 80 or 90, whether in their wait for a hearing test or a reassessment, should find it as easy as getting an eye test.

"Until that happens I shall go on campaigning."

Health Minister Ivan Lewis, responding to the report, admitted that waits in some parts of the country were "unacceptably long".

But he said: "Good progress is being made. By December 2008 all patients with hearing or balance problems that require care from a hospital consultant will be treated within 18 weeks.

"All other patients with routine hearing loss should be assessed within six weeks."

More than seven million people in England have hearing loss of some sort, caused mainly by deafness from birth, trauma, infection and degenerative hearing loss.

More than 50 per cent of people aged over 60 are deaf or hard of hearing - a proportion that rises to 80 per cent by the age of 80.

Have you had tot a long time for a hearing test? Leave your comments below.

© 2007 Newsquest Media Group