A pilot scheme in Northern Ireland aimed at cutting waiting times for hearing loss appointments has been put on hold.
In response to the news, NCHA Chief Executive David Hewlett said, “Canceling the pilot program is a retrograde step for the citizens of Northern Ireland, and seeking to expand capacity in hospitals goes against all the evidence in the face of growing need. It is like trying to drain an ocean with a bucket.”
According to UK non-profit Action on Hearing Loss, people with hearing loss in Northern Ireland receive worse service than anywhere else in the UK. The organization further commented that even trying to solve the problem today with the proposed pilot program would not be a sustainable, longterm solution.
In a report titled “Under Pressure: NHS Audiology Across the UK,” Action on Hearing Loss outlined the changes needed in Northern Ireland to bring their level of hearing healthcare services in line with other areas of the UK:
- Monitor and regularly publish waiting times to ensure audiology services are meeting their targets
- Support Health and Social Care Trusts to implement the best practice Quality Standards in Audiology piloted in 2012
- Make plans for the future which will meet the needs of the growing numbers of people with hearing loss
- Renew funding to enable people struggling to cope with their hearing aids to access support in their local community through the Action on Hearing Loss ‘Hear to Help’ service
Reportedly, the current public policies for hearing health services in Northern Ireland overlook readily available audiology capabilities within the community, which could be made available to the health service at relatively low cost. This has been proposed as a more realistic solution to investing scarce public funds in higher-cost solutions or programs that do not yet exist and which may not be feasible. The dilemma results in making older patients travel further and wait longer for needed hearing care services.
According to the National Community Hearing Association (NCHA) in England, the waiting times currently experienced by those in need of hearing care in Northern Ireland are 9 weeks for an initial hearing screening and assessment, and another 13 weeks for a hearing aid fitting. NCHA says that long wait times are only part of the problem—there are also significant gaps in follow-up and ongoing support care.
“Put simply, workarounds will not work and today’s announcement [of the delay of the hearing loss pilot program] will continue to delay much needed change,” NCHA representatives report, adding that Department of Health administrators have overlooked the evidence and failed the patients in need. The NCHA intends to write to the Department of Health to help ensure that people in Northern Ireland are able to access responsive and ongoing care for their hearing loss.
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