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NICE approves increase in cochlear implants

Monday 7th January 2019
Changes to eligibility rules and testing are set to mean more people with hearing problems will receive cochlear implants.
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More people are to be eligible for cochlear ear implants after an updating of guidance by the National Institute of health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

NICE has altered its guidelines to bring them up-to-date and it is expected hundreds of patients - with deafness levels ranging from severe to profound - will benefit from the update to criteria first drawn up in 2009. 

The organisation is changing the definition of severe to profound hearing loss to incorporate people with hearing loss measured at 80dBHL, rather than 90dBHL. This change was based on new research indicating the implants could have extensive benefits for those with hearing loss of between 80 and 89 dBHL. This was reviewed by the Centre for Technology Evaluation (CTE) to establish the need to update the measures for cochlear implant qualification.

The other criteria being changed in relation to the possible use of the implants is a switch from the Bamford-Kowal-Bench sentence test to the Arthur Boothroyd word test to establish the effectiveness of hearing aids. NICE noted that the latest research has shown word-based listening tests are better than sentence-based ones for assessing the effectiveness of hearing aids. 

All this means that more patients for whom hearing aids are largely ineffective will now have the implants instead, greatly improving their hearing.

Director of the CTE Meindert Boysen said: “The appraisal committee listened to stakeholder concerns regarding the eligibility criteria for cochlear implants being out of date. Upon review it was concluded this needed to be updated.

“The new eligibility criteria for cochlear implants will ensure that they continue to be available on the NHS to those individuals who will benefit from them the most.”

Director of policy and campaigns at Action on Hearing Loss Dr Roger Wicks welcomed the change, noting that at present only five per cent of adults who could benefit from a cochlear implant get one. 

He said the reason for this is because the current method of assessing hearing "doesn’t reflect how speech is understood or heard in real life".

 Written by James Puckle

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