Hearing tests on your high street
PEOPLE with hearing problems are to be offered NHS treatment on the high street – at national chains of opticians.
The option is among a huge range of choices North Staffordshire GPs will be free to give to their patients from next month.
A list of 10 providers the doctors will be allowed to send cases to also includes the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, which traditionally carries out the treatment.
But for the first time, patients will be able to choose private sector giants such as Specsavers and Scrivens to assess their deafness and fit hearing aids – all for free.
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NHS hospitals in Birmingham, Warwick and Shrewsbury are also on the list but they would have to set up temporary clinics in North Staffordshire. The system does not cover emergency ear care.
The change comes through a new Government programme called Any Qualified Provider which aims to improve services by opening them up to competition.
Businesses can apply to provide the treatment so long as they comply with specifications and are fully evaluated by NHS managers.
Each area of the country was allowed to select three from eight services, then seek interest from private and NHS organisations.
The two clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) for Stoke-on-Trent and the rest of North Staffordshire went for adult audiology, chiropody and continence services.
Only the NHS trust, which runs community care, bid for the continence work. Organisations pitching to treat chiropody patients are under evaluation.
But the audiology choices will come in on November 1.
In future the programme will seek bids to provide back and neck treatment, scans, wheelchair services, leg ulcer wound healing and psychology. Health campaigners cautiously welcomed the move.
Ian Syme, co-ordinator of pressure group North Staffordshire Healthwatch, pictured below, said: "Services will be more accessible for people than always having to go to the hospital for a hearing aid.
"But the downside is there could be fragmentation if a more severe hearing problem was found in a patient by one of the new providers and he or she needs more intensive treatment in the hospital.
"And we don't want to hear cases of vulnerable people at a private company being persuaded to buy a more expensive hearing aid instead of a free NHS one. Strict monitoring must be in place to protect against that."
Dresden GP Dr Prasad Rao – chairman of the city's CCG – said: "We will be rigorously monitoring the providers to make sure they give a high-quality service.
The compete list is: Complete Price Eye Wear; David Ormrod; Heart of England Foundation Trust, Birmingham; InHealth; Industrial Diagnostics; Scrivens; Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals NHS Trust; South Warwickshire Trust; Specsavers and the University Hospital of North Staffordshire.