Hearing Tests Waiting Time To Be Slashed

The maximum wait for NHS hearing tests is to be slashed from more than two years to less than two months, as new technology is introduced to accelerate fitting of digital aids for hundreds of thousands of older people, the government said yesterday.

Ivan Lewis, the health minister, said the average wait for a hearing assessment in south-east England was 45 weeks. It could then take years for patients to be fitted with a digital hearing aid.

He pledged that the maximum wait for an audiology assessment would be cut to six weeks by April next year. Most patients should be fitted with a digital hearing aid within days of a test showing they needed one. Those with more complex conditions, requiring attention of a hospital ear consultant, would be treated and fitted with an aid within 18 weeks.

The NHS assesses about 600,000 people a year for hearing aids and will have to increase capacity by about one third to clear a backlog and meet the new targets. Mr Lewis said funding was included in health authority budgets for 2007/8 and NHS organisations would get black marks from inspectors if they failed to deliver.

The reduction in waiting times has been facilitated by “open ear technology” that permits a digital aid to be fitted immediately after a hearing test and adjusted to suit the individual’s condition and environment.

The British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists said in September that patients were having to wait up to five years to have their old analogue hearing aids upgraded on the NHS. Mr Lewis said the maximum wait for an upgrade would be the same as for a new fitting.