As I explained in my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wembley, South (Sir R. Russell) on 30th November, there were at 30th September 1972 376 physiological measurement technicians (audiology). It is not possible to make an accurate assessment of vacancies but I judge that the planned introduction over a five-year period of head-worn hearing aids will involve roughly a doubling in the present numbers of technical staff.—[Vol. 865, c. 246–7.]
How many of the people to whom my right hon. Friend has just referred have formal qualifications and how many are trainees? What will be the position when the new head-worn hearing aid comes into operation? Will there be an overload on the National Health Service? Will my right hon. Friend therefore reconsider his decision and allow the private sector to supply spectacles under the National Health Service?
There is no central record of the number of technicians who have undertaken courses, but there are currently about 80 in the student grade. The Government accept that there needs to be an expansion of the number of trained audiology technicians. But I hope the House appreciates that the Government's purpose in providing a free ear-borne hearing aid is to bring many more people than now use the service for the deaf within the diagnostic treatment and rehabilitative services of the National Health Service. Valuable though the provision of ear-borne hearing aids by the commercial sector is, it cannot be expected to provide all those other aspects of service. That is why the Government are planning an expansion within the National Health Service, though they confidently expect that the private sector will continue to flourish.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say what progress there has been in recruitment since he made his statement earlier in the year, so as to give the House an indication of what efforts are being made.
It is too soon to make a judgment. Furthermore, we take statistics only once a year. The only fact I have which is relevant is that the 1972 figure, which I have given, was 10 per cent. up on the figure for a year earlier.