Continuing our series of blogs on the upcoming election, this blog takes a look at the government’s record on health and audiology services in England.
One of the big changes over the past five years has been the Health and Social Care Act 2012. It’s fair to say that this got a rocky ride through Parliament, with some seeing it as another top-down reorganisation of the NHS and others seeing it as necessary to make the NHS more streamlined, less bureaucratic and patient-centred.
In terms of structures, deaf children and their families may not have noticed many changes in terms of where audiology services sit and who does what. But behind the scenes there have been lots of changes in funding and organisational arrangements, leading to uncertainty and confusion over how the changes impact on audiology services.
There have also been changes to how audiology services are checked to ensure that they’re providing a good service. The existing quality assurance programme, which looked at the patient journey from screening of babies for a hearing loss to diagnosis and audiological support and other support, has been scrapped. For audiology services, this has been replaced by an accreditation scheme called Improving Quality in Physiological diagnostic Services (IQIPs). Unfortunately, IQIPs isn’t mandatory and there is a lack of transparency over how has applied for accreditation. This means that parents of deaf children now have less information about the quality of local audiology services.
Are deaf children getting the support they need?
This matters because there are increasing concerns over whether those audiology services are doing everything they should to ensure deaf children get the best possible support. Before the old quality assurance programme was scrapped, it was found that 1 in 3 audiology services were failing to meet basic government standards. We have no real idea whether that has got any better – or worse.
On top of that, NDCS is increasingly being contacted by parents saying that they are noticing cutbacks in audiology, some of which are set out in the NDCS Listen Up! campaign report. These range from having to wait long times for ear moulds or delays in diagnosis, to being denied funding for specialist auditory implants. Even small things, like offering coloured earmoulds are being cutback, even though this can really encourage deaf children to wear their hearing aids and make the most of their hearing.
Deaf young people also tell us that deaf awareness in health settings also remains an ongoing issue, as set out in the NDCS My life, My Health report. The good news is that NHS England has started to wrestle with this issue and a new accessible information standard, is expected to be launched next year. As part of this, all NHS settings, including GPs, will be expected to do more to meet the communication needs of deaf people.
As with education, trying to do justice to five years of health policy in a single blog is a challenge and the above does not attempt to cover everything or even to touch on wider changes that impact on all children. Again though, we hope it provides some food for thought though. Let us know what you think about our summary evaluation by leaving a comment below.