Hearing Aids

Health and Social Care – in the House of Commons on 29th October 2019.

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Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

What steps he is taking to increase access to hearing aids.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

In 2018, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence issued new guidance called “Hearing loss in adults: assessment and management”, which aims to improve hearing loss services, including the provision of hearing aids. The guidance brings together evidence, standards, guidance and case studies to encourage best practice across England.

Photo of David Davies David Davies Chair, Welsh Affairs Committee

Does my hon. Friend agree that we in England have been cutting waiting times for hearing aids by using private companies such as Specsavers, and that that demonstrates a huge difference between privatising the NHS, which this Conservative party would never, ever support, and using private companies to provide a first-rate health service free at the point of use?

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head. We are absolutely committed to the principle of an NHS that is free at the point of use, but the NHS has, under successive Governments, commissioned care from the private sector to ensure that patients receive the treatment that they need as quickly, safely and near to home as possible. All NHS healthcare, irrespective of how it is provided, must be of the highest possible quality and improve outcomes.

Photo of Jim Fitzpatrick Jim Fitzpatrick Labour, Poplar and Limehouse

When the Government published their action plan on hearing loss in 2015, it was widely welcomed across the deaf community, as well as in the House, but there is now just a sense in the deaf community that NHS England’s commitment to the action plan is somehow waning. Will the Minister confirm that the Government are still fully committed to the action plan and will also encourage NHS England to carry on?

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

Yes absolutely; I can give the hon. Gentleman that clear reassurance, and I thank him for his work as chair of the all-party group on deafness.

Photo of Tracey Crouch Tracey Crouch Conservative, Chatham and Aylesford

The Minister will recall that in the loneliness strategy we showcased Action on Hearing Loss’s “Hear to Meet” befriending service, which connects those with hearing impairments to share experiences. Alongside the work that the Department is doing to provide good-quality hearing aids, what more is it doing to recognise that those with hearing loss, especially children, can be among the most lonely in society?

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. She is absolutely right to highlight the fact that any form of disability can cause social isolation and loneliness, but hearing loss and deafness can do so almost more than anything else. I pay massive tribute to the incredible work that she did as Minister for sport and civil society to further this. I am a keen member of the inter-ministerial group on hearing loss, which does so much to further that aim and aspiration.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

North Staffordshire clinical commissioning group is the only CCG in the country to restrict hearing aids. It is about to launch its consultation to ensure that all my constituents can get hearing aids when they need them. Does the Minister agree that it should be compliant with NICE guidelines?

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The hon. Lady is absolutely to raise that. CCGs are responsible for the commissioning of NHS audiology services, including the provision of hearing aids. We expect all CCGs to have regard to the NICE clinical guidance when commissioning services for their local population.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Conservative, South Holland and The Deepings

With the Sheffield Children’s Hospital last night, I was reminded again that in childhood, dreams are made and die are cast, and through our senses, we come to terms with the world around us. As Dickens said, the best of all stories is a child’s story. Sometimes those stories are not happy ones initially, and deaf children in particular struggle and suffer as they come to terms with the world about them. Will the Minister ensure that every deaf child in Lincolnshire has not only an education, health and care plan, but all the innovations and technology that allow them to live their life to the full and cast a future as glorious as any of ours?

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I certainly could not have put that more articulately than my right hon. Friend did, and he is absolutely right. In 2018, the Government provided contracts worth more than £25 million to help children with special educational needs and disability to access the right support. The Department for Education is reviewing the SEND commitment within that Department, but we are supporting it to do that in the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that children get the care and support and educational support plans that they need.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for the response so far. Will she outline what discussions have taken place with independent groups such as Specsavers, which does excellent work providing wider access to NHS-funded tests and hearing aids, with special reference to more rural areas?

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this. As I said in my first answer, it is important that we can work collaboratively with organisations in the private sector and across the NHS to make sure that patients, wherever they are in the country, in urban or rural areas, can access the right care and support when they need it.

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Independent, Dudley North

If the Minister and other Members want to find out how to provide a phenomenal audiology service, they should come to Dudley and visit the clinical CCG buildings at Brierley Hill. It is an amazing service. When I was referred to them for a hearing aid, I could not believe the service. You ring up and say “When can I come in?”, and they say “When would you like to come in?” “Could I come in tomorrow?” “What time would you like to arrive?”—no waiting lists, an absolutely phenomenal service. I was worried—

Photo of Ian Austin Ian Austin Independent, Dudley North

I was worried that I was getting special treatment because I was the MP, but I was not; it is just an absolutely fantastic service, and I want to commend the brilliant men and women who provide it. It would be great if the Minister came to see them.

Photo of Caroline Dinenage Caroline Dinenage Minister of State (Department of Health and Social Care)

I don’t know about you, Mr Speaker, but I could listen to the hon. Gentleman talk all day. He is absolutely right to commend the wonderful services provided by the team in Dudley. I would be more than happy to visit at any time.