July 1948 saw the launch of the National Health Service (NHS) in Britain following the Second World War. The NHS promised to provide health care to all – young or old, rich or poor – for free. In my eyes, it is about the only thing that makes me proud to be British. As a young moderately deaf person studying for my music degree in London, I have relied upon my audiologist to help me get the most out of my hearing. The treatment, although a ‘postcode lottery’ in many areas, has been second to none when providing hearing aids for me*. This morning, however, my Facebook ‘newsfeed’ was taken over by an article from the Daily Mail, reporting rumours of free NHS hearing aids being denied to mild-moderately deaf adults (currently being discussed for introduction into the North Staffordshire area). It’s unclear in the Daily Mail article whether this plan is set to encompass all adults, or adults with age related hearing loss (as reported in here and here).
Now, I’m used to seeing articles reporting the failures within the NHS service pop up all the time. Furthermore (and more saddening in my eyes) is seeing people play into the hands of these reports, which often lack detail, are biased, or sometimes even exaggerate a situation. As human beings we’re quick to judge, and we’re liable to believing the first thing someone tells us without gathering more information (quite naturally). But this is exactly what the media rely upon – they divide opinion, scaremonger people into believing what they read, and eventually turn people upon each other.
This exact effect was achieved, and it was to my dismay today that I saw D/deaf people turning on other D/deaf people as a direct result of the Daily Mail article. Some were saying that the profoundly deaf ‘deserve hearing aids more’ than mildly deaf people. Others were saying the opposite. Some were proposing cutting out funding for Cochlear Implants on the NHS, and saying that anyone who wants them should have to pay. Some were saying that only young people should get them for free, and elderly people should pay for their own privately.
I just want to say STOP. Just stop, and look around at what this has caused. We should all be in this together – not prioritising one group over another because of some flimsy opinions and emotions getting fired around over an article. This is exactly what the people proposing the new scheme want – they want to see opinions divided in order to justify their doings.
What the Daily Mail have reported does not surprise me in the slightest. I have contacts within highly specialised, closed circles, and frequently hear information which is hidden from the public eye. So when AQP – a new scheme offering NHS hearing aids from the private dispensers, Specsavers and Boots – was introduced, I knew immediately that adult hearing care would start the shift towards being privatised, or at least part-privatised like eye care and dental care. I watched a number of people support this scheme, saying that they would be able to get ‘better’ care from these places, (as is made sound desirable here), but I had a huge number of doubts and reservations from day one**. These reservations are well justified as I don’t think people realise some of the implications this has for our National Health Service which is being picked apart, bit by bit.
I urge each and every one of you to spend just ten minutes thinking about what’s happening to our services. Someone who is mildly deaf has just as much chance of suffering social isolation and depression as a profoundly deaf person. It doesn’t matter how or when a person became deaf, whether they’re oral, use sign, or a bit of both… and it doesn’t matter what equipment they choose to use (if any). The fact is that nobody should be left out, and nobody should be left behind. We ALL deserve the support and guidance from our NHS.
I do suspect that between 5 and 10 years down the line, our audiology services will have shifted further (and more permanently) into part-privatisation. I have to admit that yes, I am scared of that prospect. I am just as angry as the next person about the thought of our services being removed and/or changed. But there’s only ONE way we’ll get our voices heard – and that’s by respecting one another and teaming up to fight against privatisation. If they’re willing to cut social funds for audiology, they’ll be willing to cut access funds, too.
I wrote a Facebook status responding to the article this morning, and would like to share the last part with you. “Open your eyes and look around. Look at how many people get the care they need from the system we have. Look at how hard the professionals and volunteers within the service work, despite being picked on by the media, management, government, and many patients. We need our NHS. A pair of decent hearing aids costs thousands of pounds to buy privately, but usually little over £100 for the NHS for the same (re-branded) aids. So many people can’t afford to be buying their own equipment and so will enter a life of isolation. Would you like to see the next target group – your grandparents – go through that soon? I know I wouldn’t.”
*This wasn’t always the case – I changed audiology clinics twice. The first and second had rules in place whereby 10 minute slots were given to each patient, no matter how complicated the problem was. I was never given the support I needed until I went to my current department just under two years ago. This wasn’t the fault of the staff, but a result of strict management, and resulted in poor outcomes for the patients.
**One of these reservations is the fact that these two private companies have decided to give out the lowest specification of NHS hearing aids, resulting in poor fittings. This, in turn, pushes the patient into being a customer who buys hearing aids from the more desirable private range. After all – they’ve tried NHS hearing aids (without being given the full story, sadly), failed, and want something better.