Four clinical commissioning groups in Staffordshire are poised to follow a neighbouring CCG in ‘rationing’ access to hearing aids.
The plans have been condemned by a national charity, which said the devices were a “lifeline” for people with hearing loss.
Cannock Chase, East Staffordshire, Stafford and Surrounds, and South East Staffordshire and Seisdon Peninsula CCGs are going to consult on restricting access to hearing aids to people with mild to moderate adult onset hearing loss.
The groups follow in the footsteps of North Staffordshire CCG, which in October will become the first commissioner in NHS history to restrict access to publicly funded hearing aids.
The CCGs are proposing to adopt the same hearing aid commissioning policy as North Staffordshire. Under the policy, hearing aids for patients with “mild” hearing loss (between 26 and 40 decibels) will no longer be routinely funded.
Those with “moderate” hearing loss of 41-55 decibels would only be eligible for an NHS funded device if they score sufficiently highly in a “functional impact” assessment, which measures the effect of their hearing loss on their everyday life.
Those under the age of 18, and people with dementia and learning difficulties will continue to receive publically funded aids.
Paul Breckell, chief executive of Action on Hearing Loss, said his charity was “extremely concerned” by the CCGs’ proposals.
The charity has previously warned that North Staffordshire’s actions could cause a “domino effect” of further restrictions to hearing aid services locally and nationally.
“We are already shocked and disappointed that a neighbouring commissioning group, North Staffordshire CCG, will stop providing hearing aids for most people who need them from 1 October 2015 – an unprecedented step and a first since the inception of the NHS,” Mr Breckell said.
The charity will shortly hand in a petition signed by over 5,000 Staffordshire residents to Staffordshire County Council opposing plans to cut hearing aid services in the county.
“We will continue to urge local people and healthcare organisations to oppose any restrictions to the provision of hearing aids, which people with hearing loss tell us are a lifeline,” he added.
The CCGs will consult on the proposals later this autumn, with the governing bodies set to make a decision on the policy in December.
The revised policy would come into effect in April next year, when a new three year contract to provide audiology services is due to start.
In a joint statement, the four CCGs said they were “committed to providing healthcare services that provide the best possible results to the people of Staffordshire”.
“We are committed to engaging with local people to ensure we are clear how our proposals will affect them and that their input is considered in detail as part of the on going decision-making process,” they added.
North East Essex CCG is proposing that individuals with hearing loss up to 37 decibels should no longer receive free NHS hearing aids.
The CCG’s clinical director, Hasan Chowhan, said the group had a “duty to ensure public money is spent wisely to ensure maximum clinical effectiveness”.
North East Essex is seeking feedback on the idea until 15 October.
The CCG already plans to bring in thresholds for non-urgent elective surgery on the basis of whether patients smoke or are overweight.