§ Mr. Rosindell
To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans the Government have to increase the availability of digital hearing aids. 
§ Jacqui Smith
We announced the Modernising hearing aids services project in October 2000. Since then, to the end of December 2001, 19,368 digital aids had been fitted, 19,353 adult patients had been assessed and 14,856 adult patients fitted. By the end of March, we expect to have fitted over 18,000 patients.
I announced on 24 December 2001 that a further £20 million would be made available in 2002–03 so that a further 30 national health service sites can join the Modernising hearing aids project during that year. Decisions on which sites will become involved in the project next year will be made shortly.
The Institute of Hearing Research is evaluating the project, and its findings will help planning of the wider availability of changes in hearing aid services, which include the provision of digital hearing aids, to all NHS audiology departments.
In the meantime, all NHS trusts with the ability, in terms of staff, training, equipment and experience, to provide digital hearing aids, are able to apply for access to a favourable contract for supply of digital hearing aids.