§ 2.57 p.m.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the second Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take on the proposals put forward by the Consumer Council for regulating the conditions of supply of commercial hearing aids, and extending the range of National Health Service aids.]
PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY STATE COMMONWEALTH RELATIONS AND FOR THE COLONIES (LORD My Lords)
my right honourable friends the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland have studied the Report of the Consumer Council about the supply of hearing aids through the National Health Service and through commercial channels. The Ministers have been advised that the present Medresco range of aids is clinically satisfactory for the great majority of patients. "Behind the ear" aids are more expensive and do not satisfy the clinical needs of as high a proportion of patients. Nevertheless, they have social and cosmetic advantages. A Working Party was set up in the Health Departments one and a half years ago to consider how best to meet the needs of the minority of patients, who cannot be helped by any of the existing range of Medresco aids. Following the Report of the Consumer Council, the Working Party has extended its activities to advice on the development of all aspects of the hearing aid service, including "behind the ear" hearing aids. It is reporting regularly to the Ministers and they are now reviewing the whole matter, in the light of the advice given by the Working Party and of the Report of the Consumer Council. The review will include the question of regulating the conditions of supply of commercial aids.
My Lords, I wish to thank the noble Lord very much indeed for his reply, which is very encouraging. I am delighted to hear 1136 that this Working Party is in existence. However, if it has been in existence for a year and a half, I would suggest that its work might be speeded up a little. There are two things which I should like to know whether they would be able to deal with. The fact that high-pressure salesmanship quite often influences people in the buying of hearing aids, and the fact that there is no medical test but the salesmen sell the apparatus and the matter does not go through a doctor are serious matters. Also, as the noble Lord said, there are a number of people for whom the ordinary National Health Service aid—Medresco—is insufficient. Would he ask whether a second type of aid, or a third type of aid, could be made available under the National Health Service scheme, in order to prevent people from having to buy them privately under what are sometimes severe salesmanship conditions?
My Lords, the noble Lady asked about the speed of work of the Working Party. It is a very complicated subject and the Working Party are working very fast and reporting regularly. They are not waiting until they make a Final Report; they are reporting at intervals, as they complete each part of their work. The whole problem is an extremely complicated one, as the noble Lady will be aware, and the question of consumer protection for example, is not really a matter for the Minister of Health unless it involves the health safety of the individual, and he must work in consultation with the Board of Trade. That is what he is doing, and will continue to do, with regard to the question of high-pressure salesmanship of these aids.
With regard to the general supply through the National Health Service of a "behind the ear" aid, that again raises a very difficult question. The noble Lady is doubtless aware that the Medresco aid is manufactured on contract for the National Health Service at a very reasonable price. If it were decided that a "behind the ear" hearing aid was to be supplied, it would be a matter for very careful consideration as to whether it, too, should be supplied on contract, which would make the subject extremely complicated.