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Royal National Institute for Deaf People Website

Department of Health Website


Monday 13 October 2003


Under a major new Government Contract announced today, deaf and hard of hearing people will be able to have NHS hearing tests and get high quality NHS digital hearing aids fitted at selected High Street stores.

This radical new move will help to cut down the lengthy waiting times that some people currently face and will provide convenient access for hearing tests and fitting of digital hearing aids. This important new public private partnership has been pioneered by RNID in conjunction with the Department of Health, under the modernising hearing aid services (MHAS) programme.

Dr John Low, RNID Chief Executive said, “RNID’s priority is to ensure that everyone can easily access high quality digital hearing aids regardless of where they live. Contracting High Street dispensers to fit NHS digital hearing aids to the correct standards means more people will be fitted more promptly and in easy-access locations. This can only be good news for the millions of people in England whose quality of life can be improved radically with modern digital hearing aids.”

The announcement follows a pilot study and in-depth evaluation, carried out by RNID and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Institute of Hearing Research. Professor Adrian Davis, who authored the evaluation commented, “Our research concluded that judicious, quality assured use of private sector hearing aid dispensers has substantial promise in delivering a major boost to capacity. By training hearing aid dispensers in modernised NHS protocols and by working in partnership with them, we can be confident they will provide a high quality, safe service. Furthermore private sector audiology can make available additional affordable capacity, so it makes practical sense to draw upon their expertise and experience.”

The new services will be overseen by local NHS Audiology Departments and will provide the same standard of care available in a modernised audiology department.

Stephen Ladyman, Health Minister said:

"This is an excellent example of the Government, voluntary sector and the private sector working together to provide a better service for the NHS patient. RNID has worked closely with the Department of Health, the NHS and the MRC Institute of Hearing Research to ensure that NHS patients have access to state of the art digital hearing aids, provided free of charge in an increasing number of convenient locations."

This latest development follows the recent success of the MHAS programme, which has made new high-specification digital hearing aids available to patients on the NHS. In conjunction with the NHS, RNID negotiated with hearing aid manufacturers to introduce new moderate power hearing aids with advanced features at a reduced cost of just over £65 each.

Since the MHAS programme started in 2000, more than a third of NHS Audiology Services around England have been modernised and around 100,000 patients have been fitted with new digital hearing aids. This new partnership under the National Framework contract will help boost the capacity of the NHS by drawing upon the existing under-used resources in the private sector.

Notes to Editors:
1. Modernisation of Audiology services in England started in 2000. To date over 130 NHS Trusts have been allocated funding to upgrade their audiology services. The Government has committed £125 million over 5 years to modernise NHS hearing aid services in England. To find out more about the Modernising Hearing Aids Services programme, visit which includes a list of audiology services already modernised.

2.A pilot study to assess the feasibility of working with high street dispensers started in May 2001. The study was conducted in two areas, Leeds and Shropshire, and assessed methods of working with the private sector. A number of additional sites are now also working with private dispensers.

3.Under the terms of the NHS National Framework Contract for the supply of Hearing Aid Services, Ormerods and Ultravox have been appointed as the hearing aid dispensers who NHS can contract to conduct hearing aid assessments and fit digital hearing aids.

4.Digital hearing aid technology offers significant advances for people with hearing difficulties. The latest digital technology has been applied to hearing aids which can be adjusted to meet patients’ individual requirements. Research showed that patients reported a 40% improvement in their hearing as a result of new digital hearing aids provided in a modernised NHS audiology service.

5.RNID is the largest charity representing the 9 million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK. As a membership charity, we aim to achieve a radically better quality of life for deaf and hard of hearing people. We do this in the following ways:

·Campaigning and lobbying to change laws and government policies.

·Challenging negative perceptions around deafness and hearing loss.

·Providing information and raising awareness of deafness, hearing loss and tinnitus.

·Training courses and consultancy on deafness and disability.

·Communication services including sign language interpreters.

·Training of interpreters, lipspeakers and speech-to-text operators.

·Seeking lasting change in education for deaf children and young people.

·Employment programmes to help deaf people into work.

·Care services for deaf and hard of hearing people with additional needs.

·Typetalk, the national telephone relay service for deaf and hard of hearing people.

·Equipment and products for deaf and hard of hearing people.

·Social, medical and technical research.

·For more information about RNID, visit: or contact RNID's Information Line on 0808 808 0123 (freephone) or 0808 808 9000 (textphone) or email: Media contact: Please contact RNID Media Relations Team on 020 7296 8137 (voice and text).

Out of office please contact: 07773 282862 – 07944 038 635 Spokespersons from participating NHS Trusts in Exeter, Leeds and Shrewsbury are available for interview. Case studies also available.