Health Committee Press Notice No 23

15 May 2007
Session 2006-07

Government must act to end unacceptable and patchy NHS audiology services

The Health Select Committee today publishes its Fifth Report of Session 2006-07 on Audiology Services (HC 392).

The Committee heard evidence that there are about half a million people waiting for hearing aids in the NHS right now, with some having waited more than two years. This shows the low priority given to audiology services, and it must be addressed urgently, the Committee argues.

Although audiology services improved greatly as a result of the introduction of digital hearing aids, this led to a surge in demand and hence increased waiting times, which was surprisingly not anticipated.

Regardless of whether the current high level of demand is a temporary phenomenon or a long-term trend, it is clear that extra capacity is needed now, the committee concludes.

However, it heard evidence that many NHS-trained audiologists are unable to find jobs. While there is good practice in audiology departments, there is enormous variation between areas. More effective ways of working and better skill mix would give extra capacity. There is also a lack of consistency in the collection of data on waiting times, which the committee urges the Government to address.

The Government plans to increase the use of the private sector in audiology. It must make evidence-based decisions and ensure value for money. In order to accurately assess the value of independent treatment, the Committee calls for the introduction of a national tariff for audiology.

While the Committee welcomes the publication of the Government's new framework Improving Audiology Services in England, it notes that this was delivered almost a year later than the RNID expected and coincidentally two days before the Committee took evidence on the subject.

The Committee is also concerned that this framework does not add much that is new and crucially keeps audiology outside the 18-week referral to treatment target, which applies to consultant-led services.

While the Committee acknowledges the difficulty of applying the target to audiology services immediately, it calls for this to be done at as early a date as possible.

`` It is appalling that we don't know either the extent of current delays or the likely levels of future demand for audiology services. Effective forecasting is essential. The Government must ensure that this information is available as soon as possible. Future policy must be made in an evidence-based manner,'' Kevin Barron, chairman of the committee said.

The Health Committee is a Select Committee of the House of Commons. It is appointed under Standing Order No.152 to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Department of Health and associated public bodies. The Committee has the power to send for persons, papers and records. For more information, see the committee's web site:

Media contact: Laura Humble on 020 7219 2003/07917 488 489/