Hearing tests, hearing aids and aftercare have always been free from the NHS for adults aged over 50, but now they can also be provided at a local Specsavers Hearing Centre rather than just at a hospital.

The BBC 2 Daily Politics Show on 13th May featured a balanced and informative debate on the recent changes to the NHS, highlighting Specsavers hearing services. The focus was the introduction of a scheme designed to open up consumer choice, namely that local NHS Primary Care Trusts in England can now accredit high street audiologists, such as Specsavers Hearing Centres, to provide free hearing care.

Involving high-street providers outside of the NHS has been a significant part of the Government's recent changes to the health service. The England-wide initiative recognises that age-related hearing loss no longer needs to be treated at a hospital.

The key is that the patient now has greater choice and easier to access to hearcare than ever before. Now, by opening up hearing care through the Any Qualified Providers (AQP) scheme, people have access the same services and level of care as they would at a hospital, but in their high street.

Colin Campbell, Specsavers’ professional services director for hearcare explained the benefits of the current service to Adam Fleming on the show ‘It's free at the point of use. It's free at the point of delivery. So you come along and have your hearing aids fitted at Specsavers, just as you would in the hospital. The difference is that you would log-in to the local community to have that qualified service performed’.

The TV show emphasised that the NHS could even ‘learn a thing or two from companies like Specsavers’ that have been offering high-street hearcare services. In fact, Specsavers’ audiologists are fully qualified healthcare professionals and registered with the British Society of Hearing Aid Audiologists (BSHAA), offering the same quality care available to hospital patients. AQP accreditation have been devised to ensure all service providers, whether they be private or NHS, are operating to the highest standards possible – and this can only benefit patients.

Julia Manning from think-tank 2020 Health agreed: ‘It’s about encouraging people to think more about different services, plurality of provision and to think about whether patients are getting best value and best quality.’ Studio guests Conservative GP Chris Skidmore and Clare Gerada, Chair of the Royal College of GPs debated the issue. Ms Gerada, who while against NHS privatisation per se, did acknowledged that ‘Specsavers does offer a great service’.

Fleming summed the feature with: ‘Patients might start seeing a difference soon, as from last month, the changes to the NHS have been rolled out to every area of England, which means a doctor near you is wondering if a company like Specsavers could be doing ever more’.

Specsavers has delivered audiology services in partnership with a number of PCTs since 2006 and has delivered over 100,000 NHS patient pathways, and therefore has the experience and capability to deliver the highest standard of patient care. Recent technological improvements now mean that the latest digital hearing aids are discrete yet high-quality, which will improve hearing in all conditions. Of course, the option to use Specsavers’ private service is still available with a large range of hearing aids from the world’s leading manufacturers.

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