29 November 2001

S1M-2436 Audiology Services

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 29 November 2001

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

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Audiology Services

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): The members' business debate is on motion S1M-2436, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on digital hearing aids and a review of audiology services.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the Scottish Executive is conducting an audiology services review; recognises that many hard of hearing and profoundly deaf people are still provided with out-dated analogue hearing aids; is aware that new digital hearing aids can improve the quality of life for those who need them; realises that digital hearing aids are not widely available on the NHS in Scotland and are expensive to purchase privately; understands that the cost can be dramatically reduced by a system of bulk-buying; further notes that such a scheme has been introduced into 20 NHS hospitals in England, and considers that the Scottish Executive should make a commitment to provide digital hearing aids on the NHS in Scotland.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate Mike Rumbles on securing the debate and I congratulate Robert Brown on reminding us that the debate is not really about digital hearing aids, but about people and how the lack of appropriate available and affordable technology affects their lives. We should remember that nearly 750,000 people in Scotland are hard of hearing and that perhaps 500,000 might benefit from the technology that is the subject of the debate.

In my business career, blind people and deaf people worked for me. They were highly skilled graduates who worked in computer technology. The blind people coped very well, but the deaf people—who had the burden of not having a visible disability—found it much harder to deal with the world in which they had to operate. Therefore, deaf people and people who are hard of hearing require our support and encouragement.

Digital hearing aids have been available on the NHS for many years; many people would benefit from them, but only two health boards in Scotland prescribe them. As Mike Rumbles said, one of those health boards is Highland Health Board, which has a budget of £100,000 for audiology. I understand that that board prescribes such aids only for children and that it has yet to extend its support to the adult population, but provision for children is good practice. Fife Health Board is piloting a scheme and focusing on audiologists.

Disparity of provision puts many people at a severe disadvantage. A constituent of mine attended a clinic in Elgin—part of Grampian Health Board's area. She could not obtain a digital hearing aid, although her condition was assessed as being such that she would benefit from one. Other people at the same clinic, who were from Inverness, were in a different position, even though they had a similar condition. That represents postcode prescribing at its worst and we should do something about it. The pilot schemes that have been established south of the border show that such aids can improve people's hearing and quality of life.

I am lucky; my hearing is tested every two years as part of the renewal of my pilot's licence, and I can see the deterioration in my hearing every two years. Fortunately, I am not yet hard of hearing, although my wife suggests that I am hard of heeding from time to time. We hope that the Executive—which is clearly not hard of hearing—will not be hard of heeding.


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