§ Mr. Pavitt
asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he intends to authorise extension of the arrangements governing issue of the National Health Service behind-the-ear hearing aid to patients not at present eligible to receive it ; and if he will make a statement.18W
§ Mr. Alfred Morris :
My right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland and Wales and I have consulted a wide range of professional and national voluntary organisations working among people who are deaf and hard of hearing. There was general agreement that the issuing programme should be extended as soon as possible to all who can benefit from the behind-the-ear hearing aid, the majority of whom will be elderly people, and that details of how this should be done should be left to local discretion.
Health authorities have been notified that, provided they have completed issues to those on the waiting lists in the earlier priority groups, they may now extend the programme to all others who wish to exchange their body-worn National Health Service hearing aid and to all new patients.
Extension of the scheme will increase the number of referrals to hearing aid centres and to ear, nose and throat departments, and in order that the resultant workload can be managed within existing resources, each centre should make its own arrangements according to local circumstances. Health authorities have been asked to give maximum publicity to the arrangements they make. A copy of the health circular has been sent to directors of social services in England and Wales, to directors of social work in Scotland and to general medical practitioners. Our aim is to complete the exchange programme by 1980.
My hon. Friend will recall that when the new hearing aid was introduced on 1st November 1974 the first priority groups comprised war pensioners requiring aids for accepted disability ; mothers with young children under the age of five years ; children and young people up to the age 18–21 if still receiving full-time education ; people whose head-worn aids have been replaced by body-worn models on leaving school ; people with an exceptional medical need not already included in these groups ; and people with an additional severe handicap such as blindness. The programme was extended from 1st September 1975 to include people of any age in full or part-time employment or education, and other people considered to have particular clinical, social or other needs justifying preferential treatment.