PATIENTS at health centres in the region are having to wait more than a year for a NHS hearing aid, a charity revealed yesterday.
The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) is urging ministers to do more to “end this scandal” after discovering 10 trusts were not treating patients within a year.
The charity’s research discovered patients at Washington Health Centre, Tyne and Wear, were being forced to wait, on average, 68 weeks before receiving a hearing aid.
Those being treated at Sunderland Royal Hospital were on standby for 62 weeks before eventually being given the essential equipment. This is despite the Government’s target being 18 weeks.
The worst offender was Kingston-upon-Thames in south-west London where patients have to wait 125 weeks – nearly two-and-a-half years – for an aid after first seeing their GP.
The RNID study showed the average wait among 99 primary care trusts (PCTs) was 22 weeks and the failing was affecting around 28,000 people.
Now the RNID has called on the Government to take hearing loss more seriously and put pressure on local health authorities to ensure waiting times fall and meet the standards set.
RNID director of communications Brian Lamb said: “If you struggle to pick up every word, hearing aids are a lifeline to work, friends and family. Despite Government assurances, an 18-week target is a distant dream for thousands of people waiting over a year for their first hearing aid, who are battling isolation and depression because of their hearing loss.
“RNID wants the Government to do more to end this scandal, by putting pressure on local health chiefs to take hearing health seriously and bring down waiting times.”
The charity obtained the information by using freedom of information requests.
They wrote to all 152 primary care trusts in England to assess the situation and 99 replied.
The results showed there are up to nine million people with hearing problems in the UK and they found 39% of patients in England wait for more than a year to get their hearing aids. The shortest wait was just four weeks, while 66 trusts provided treatment within the 18-week target set by the Government. The best performing PCTs were Norfolk and Norwich PCT, Southampton City PCT and Bolton PCT, all treating patients within a month.
The other seven PCTs where patients were forced to wait over a year were Suffolk (78 weeks), Gloucestershire (72), Ealing (67 weeks), Havering (64 weeks), Shepway (58 weeks), Mid Essex (56 weeks) and South Tees (54 weeks).
No-one from the City Hospitals Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, or the Sunderland Teaching Primary Care Trust was available for comment yesterday.