§ Mr. Pavitt
asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what action has been taken following the Price Commission report on privately prescribed hearing aids.
§ Mr. Maclennan
As my announcement of 12th July 1977—[Vol. 935, c.120]—indicated, the Price Commission found that profits of both manufacturers and retailers in this industry had generally been modest. The Commission found an industry with an unusual structure which led to high overheads; and as a result there was a considerable disparity between the cost of the hearing aid from the manufacturer and the total bill which the customers paid in an inclusive fee. The Commission had noted the argument for separating the different elements in the inclusive fee, which might help customers decide whether they were getting value for money. Although the idea had been considered in the past and rejected, the 335W Commission recommended that it should be looked at again.
I have now discussed this recommendation with interested bodies, and I am persuaded that there are good reasons against changing current practice. The code of practice of the Hearing Aid Council requires that hearing aid dispensers support the patient for the life of the hearing aid supplied, and I accept that it is in the interests of the consumer to encourage the ready availability of consultation and advice. I do not therefore propose to pursue this recommendation further.
I have been glad, meanwhile, to learn of the very great importance currently attached to the hearing aid service within the National Health Service. The range of hearing aids available through the National Health Service has been extended and, as my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for the disabled, has made clear, his aim is for a comprehensive service to meet as far as possible the needs of all those handicapped by impaired hearing. I welcome these various developments.