04 Dec 2009 Centenarian Told to Wait 18 Months to Get Hearing Aid
The British government’s health care system put 108-year-old Olive Beal on an 18-month government waiting list for a new hearing aid.
Longevity apparently does not count for much in Britain’s government-managed National Health Service.
Much of 108-year-old Olive Beal’s hearing was gone. The one-time suffragette and former piano teacher from Kent, England was unable to enjoy music or hear conversations clearly with her five-year-old analog hearing aid. A modern digital device would improve Beal’s hearing – and life – tremendously, but she was having difficulty receiving a replacement.
Beal’s granddaughter, Maria Scott, explained: “Her analog hearing aid does not filter out background noise so it makes it very difficult for her to hear clearly. But the digital one would allow her to hear people talking to her and to CDs. She loves music hall numbers.”
Beal was administered a hearing test in late July 2007, and a hearing expert recommended a digital hearing device. However, the local health authority, Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust, has an 18-month waiting list for new hearing aids provided through the NHS. Despite her age and despite contributing income taxes that fund the government’s universal health system into her late 60s, Beal was told she must wait her turn in line. A spokesman for the Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust explained: “[P]riority is given to patients who do not have an existing hearing aid…”
Under the government system, Beal would be 110 years old by the time the new hearing aid was scheduled to arrive.
Beal expressed her fear: “I could be dead by then.”
Maria Scott added, “I would have thought they would take her age into account as she probably has not got 18 months to wait… Her eyesight is falling [sic], and if she cannot hear then she will be isolated from the outside world.”
Fortunately, widespread press attention and concern about Beal’s situation prompted Phillip Ball, a private audiologist, to assist Beal voluntarily. Ball said:
“I can see no reason why a lady of her age should be fobbed off by her NHS Trust and told to wait at least 18 months, so I immediately got on the phone to offer my services. I visited Olive this week and she should have a fully functioning digital aid in a matter of days [early August 2007]. She will now be able to hear a great deal better.”
A digital hearing device costs approximately 1,000 British pounds (~$1,600) each, and wait times for hearing aids can be over two years in some parts of Britain.
“The new digital hearing aids can really transform people’s lives,” said Donna Tipping of the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, a British charity. “It is an issue of quality of life, with isolation, frustration and withdrawing from society caused by loss of hearing, and it is sad because this is reversible.”
As her grandmother is one of Britain’s oldest living citizens, Maria Scott added, “I thought a 108-year-old deserved to be treated better than this.”
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