FINANCE: North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group has revealed overwhelming public opposition to its proposals to restrict funding for hearing aids. However, the CCG claimed that much of the evidence cited by a national charity opposing the plans “lacked relevance”.

The CCG announced in June that it was seeking views on whether to cease providing free hearing aids for some adults, eliciting a nationally coordinated campaign of opposition.

Among responses it received was a petition of 6,249 signatures coordinated by the charity Action on Hearing Loss, which claimed the proposals would have a “devastating impact for people with hearing loss”.

The commissioners had suggested ending provision of free hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate age related hearing loss, which currently costs the CCG £1.2m a year.

A report due to be presented by the CCG to a local authority health committee meeting this week said: “At this stage, no decision has been made to decommission hearing aid services in North Staffordshire.”

However, the report also appeared to question evidence Action on Hearing Loss had presented in its submission.

It said a review of the 120 references in the submission found “many were duplicate” and the “majority of papers [cited] lacked relevance to the question considered… or did not add value to the evidence”.

“Several papers reinforced information” already considered in the CCG’s process for prioritising funding, which had originally recommended restricting funding for hearing aids, the report claimed.

It added that two of the cited papers supported the North Staffordshire’s funding prioritisation process by suggesting hearing aids most benefited people with “moderate [to] very severe hearing loss” rather than the “mild to moderate age related hearing loss”.

The CCG also conducted two surveys as part of its engagement process. The first generated 860 responses, of which 60 per cent of participants were hearing aid users. A total of 96 per cent of respondents were opposed to the proposal.

In the second survey, which generated 1,574 responses (56 per cent of which were hearing aid users), 80 per cent were opposed.

The CCG said that while the responses were “welcome”, North Staffordshire residents represented just 3 per cent of the total responses to the second survey, which was “inflated with responses from residents outside of North Staffordshire, who would not be affected by this proposal”.

Action on Hearing Loss has published a new open letter from 400 people involved in audiology condemning the proposals.