Have you heard the one about ….

ear trumpetProbably not, because some GPs don’t want you to hear about it except through them. –  and only then if they choose to tell you.   This reflects the “patients might like it, management probably won’t” theme in Caroline’s latest blog about carpark GP surgeries.  Following on from that, here’s more evidence of the controlling NHS culture at work against the interests of consumer choice and increased access to primary care services. This time it’s about availability of hearing tests in the high street.

More than specs

I knew that Specsavers did specs, but they can also test your hearing at Specsavers Hearing Centres.  400 of them and they have done over 100,000 tests for NHS patients.  So it’s not a small business.  But GPs apparently don’t want us to know about it because we might want to have our hearing tested.  The very thought!

“GPs face pressure from patients after Specsavers markets its NHS audiology service” explained the BMJ 

It reported: “The leading commercial eyecare provider Specsavers has been criticised for directly marketing its NHS funded hearing care services to patients, amid fear of a surge in demand that could destabilise NHS finances.” 

Note: this is an NHS funded service.  So why shouldn’t consumers be told that they can have access to hearing services in the high street through Specsavers?  Local newspapers and buses are pretty obvious places to do it.

Any Qualified Provider (AQP) is about choice, flexibility and access after all.  It’s pretty rich that the some GPs think this is “touting for trade”  and the “ugly side of commercialisation” –  especially as the BMJ has just published a survey showing more than one-third of GPs sitting on CCG boards have conflicts of interest because of their ownership stakes in outside profit making concerns which might be commissioned to provide services for their CCG.

Any Qualified Provider 

Specsavers are advertising their services to GPs in the tabloid “Pulse” so it’s hardly a secret they are in the hearing testing and wider audiology business.  Here’s what they say to GPs:

For CCGs and GPs looking to commission Adult Hearing Services, we can bring hearing care closer to your patients’ homes. With appointment times to suit their lifestyle, Specsavers can offer a comprehensive and cost-effective service, with hearing assessments within two weeks of referral, and hearing aids supplied and fitted to NHS patients within five weeks of referral. But it doesn’t stop there; our service ensures up to three years’ patient aftercare too.

That sounds good to me as a potential user.

Transparency needed to underpin choice

So is this something we the users were not supposed to hear about?  Seems like it.  Frankly I think it should be shouted from the rooftops.

What was it Robert Francis QC said in his recent report about transparency?  He said it was “allowing true information about performance and outcomes to be shared with staff, patients and the public.”  That has to include availability of services so people can discuss and choose to have them – enabling that discussion is what GPs should be about not restricting information and choice.


The Millar Adamson Craig Partnership supports user and public participation,  trains lay representatives and develops responsive  health, care and education organisations.  Feel free to contact us to discuss the opportunities.  Follow MAC on Twitter @publicinvolve




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