Jane Symonds in The Express 22nd Septemeber reports: Rationing hearing aids could cost you dear – THE NHS has begun rationing hearing aids in the push to find £22billion in so-called ‘efficiency savings’ even though experts and charities warn the move is a false economy which will leave the health service and patients footing an even bigger bill.
“It’s lunacy on a level that I cannot get my head around,” says Dr Lorraine Gailey of the charity Hearing Link. “They will save a few hundred thousand pounds a year but will cost themselves 10 times that in managing the increase in people with hearing loss who become severely depressed or have falls and end up in Accident and Emergency.”
That may sound like an exaggeration but research confirms people with hearing loss are three times more likely to suffer a serious fall, while depression and anxiety are common. One study found that a third of people with hearing loss who did not have hearing aids experience prolonged bouts of depression.
More than 10 million people in the UK – one in six of us – have some form of hearing loss and experts predict that by 2030 adult-onset hearing loss will be so common it will cost the nation more than diabetes. Around two million people in the UK use hearing aids and another four million would benefit from aids but don’t have them.
Rationing audiology services and hearing aids can only compound the problem but it will also leave many patients out of pocket to the tune of thousands of pounds. Research has shown that a hearing problem can cut as much as £19,500 from annual earnings and the average pay cut is around £7,800 a year.
But seeking a solution can deliver an immediate pay rise. American studies show these shortfalls in earnings are eliminated when people with mild hearing loss are fitted with hearing aids and they are cut by three-quarters when those with severe to moderate impairment use hearing aids.
These findings are born out by a recent UK study which estimated lower employment rates among people with hearing problems costs the UK economy a staggering £24billion a year. The Ear Foundation estimates that if every opportunity was taken to improve the nation’s hearing, the savings would be at least £30billion – at a conservative estimate.
In a report by the charity, Andrew Dunlop, a GP who has a cochlear implant, argues: “To look at it as a single monetary measure is incredibly short-sighted.” He calculates he paid for his own implant in just two years and points out: “The alternative was that I would have been a burden to the NHS.” But this rationing has been extended with North Staffordshire becoming the latest area to stop providing free hearing aids for people with mild to moderate problems. The local clinical commissioning group, which made the decision, claims the move will affect only 500 patients.
But charity Action on Hearing Loss estimates up to 37,000 people will be hit. In other areas, including Sheffield and Medway, people are being offered only one hearing aid despite hearing loss in both ears. And Dr Gailey warns: “Where England goes, the other devolved countries tend to go.
Two Welsh health boards have already followed suit – Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board and Hywel Dda University Health Board are now offering patients with hearing loss in both ears single aids. Dr Andrew Meredith, a retired ear, nose and throat consultant, and adviser to Hearing Link said: “You wouldn’t give someone a pair of glasses with only one lens.
There is a perfectly good reason we have two ears.” Being able to hear in both ears is essential to locate the source of sounds and using a single aid can lead to head shadow effect – the head literally gets in the way of sound waves to the good ear and reduces their volume and clarity.
This is exacerbated by a tiny delay in sound waves reaching the good ear, enough to impair the brain’s ability to decode sound waves. Having only one aid when two are needed can even accelerate hearing problems because a lack of stimulus to the cochlea, the organ of hearing in the inner ear, undermines the brain’s ability to interpret sounds.
Christine Larson, an account manager for a large distribution company, is living proof that resolving hearing problems can pay off. After a series of operations failed to repair damage from a perforated eardrum, Christine, 43, from Bristol, put up with impaired hearing for more than 15 years.
She admits: “I struggled a lot at work. I relied on lip-reading to piece together sentences and it could be quite embarrassing at times. I excluded myself from conversations with colleagues and customers because I struggled to hear them.” Dr Gailey says this is a very common response to hearing loss. “People become withdrawn from families and the workplace.
They become less positive. With an ageing population and people having to stay in work for longer, it’s going to be a huge problem.” But Christine finally sought help and now wears a state-of-the-art invisible hearing aid. “It’s made a massive difference to my life,” she says.
“I was recently promoted and I think having my hearing aid gave me the confidence to step up.” Hearing deteriorates gradually, so many are not aware they’ve a problem until there is significant hearing loss. On average it takes 10 years for someone to address their hearing problem and when they do ask for help, almost half aren’t referred to an audiologist.