RNID criticised over hearing aids

KIRSTEN DOWNER

The RNID's flagship digital hearing aids programme has been criticised for putting price before young deaf children.

The charity is currently managing the NHS's digital hearing aids programme, which aims to improve the coverage and quality of hearing aids across the country, giving patients the choice of a digital hearing aid rather than the more old-fashioned analogue version. The RNID hopes to have covered a third of the country by the end of 2003.

But the range of hearing aids available on contract for deaf children has narrowed and worsened as a result of the scheme, according to the National Deaf Children's Society, which is involved in the management and monitoring of the programme.

"The RNID is making only one type of digital hearing aid available to deaf children with a moderate to severe hearing loss. We're getting calls on a daily basis from anxious parents who've heard about this scheme but are unable to access digital hearing aids on the NHS. Children's needs have been pushed to the bottom of the agenda,

said Susan Daniels, the society's chief executive.

Deaf children's needs are being overlooked in the RNID's bid to drive hearing aid prices down with contractors, argues the the society. "Children's needs are more complex than adults. And because there are not so many deaf children as adults, they don't provide the numbers needed to push the prices down,

said Daniels.

This year the RNID negotiated a deal with manufacturers to get the cost of individual digital hearing aids down from £2,500 to £75.

A RNID spokeswoman denied that implementation had been slow. "We expect more than a third of England to be covered by the end of this financial year. Modernisation requires a complete change in infrastructure, retraining staff and new equipment,

she said.

The charity added that deaf children were not being sidelined. "Three quarters of all sites selected (in the programme) include a paediatric service along side an adult one,

she said.

Delain Wright, managing director of Siemens Hearing Solutions, one of the main manufacturers of hearing aids in the UK, has also attacked the scheme for its slow implementation. He said: "The RNID has over-controlled the process, which has restricted the number of people getting digital hearing aids.

"Of the one million hearing aids fitted by the NHS since the project began, only around 30,000 have been digital hearing aids. That's under 5 per cent of the number of aids fitted overall. A lot of clinics could use digital hearing aids right now."

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