Specsavers is currently providing adult audiology services for 28 regions in England under the Any Qualified Provider (AQP) system.
The Commissioning Review caught up with director of professional services Colin Campbell to find out what it’s like to be a private provider in the new NHS.
Lalah-Simone Springer: Are there any barriers for getting CCGs to use your service?
Colin Campbell: I think barriers is a bit of a strong word, but it’s a new service and with any new service there’s a degree of misunderstanding. There might be a lack of knowledge too, because adult hearing services aren’t the only thing on CCGs agendas right now. They’re going through an enormous amount of change.
The critical thing about AQP is that it puts the patient at the centre. I know that it’s controversial, as are a lot of the changes going on in the healthcare service right now. However AQP lends itself to adult hearing loss because it does exactly what the Health and Social Care Act promised – saving money while putting patients at the centre of the service.
LS: When you mention controversy, are you talking about the Section 75 regulations which some have claimed will privatise the NHS?
CC: Well, I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular I just think all of the changes are controversial, and quite rightly too. People are very protective and fond of our health service. It’s one of the backbones of the UK. But our hope is that although there is controversy the good stuff gets highlighted.
I don’t really have a view on the political changes, but I do think that patients in the UK should have access to better options when they access hearing programmes.
LS: Okay. So, how are patients responding to your service in comparison to when they access hospital services?
CC: Well, the reason there are four-million people in the UK who would benefit from hearing aids but don’t use them – whether they go to through the NHS or through Specsavers – is because there’s a stigma in the UK attached to the use of hearing aids. What’s been an absolute revelation to audiologists and also to the GPs involved, is that people prefer to access the service on the high street because they believe what’s been taken away is the stigma.
I know other independent service providers, third sector providers, and indeed GPs say along with high customer satisfaction and improvements in hearing there has been a reduction of stigma to the UK population. Until you take that stigma away fully we will never solve that massive public health issue. A reduction of stigma is one of the by-products of the AQP system, and it’s a win-win for everybody.
LS: Under the new rules, AQP was a prioritised service – that one of the reasons why Specsavers jumped in?
CC: Yes and no… The reason why we were involved from the beginning was that we were involved in Any Willing Provider (AWP), the precursor, which was actually introduced in 2006. Specsavers have been delivering NHS services on behalf of the NHS since 2006 – we had 17 contracts under AWP.
LS: I understand. And just to clarify then, what services do you provide for the NHS?
CC: We offer a full adult hearing service, from assessment through to the final sign-off. You’d come in, have your hearing tested, have the health of your ears checked and if suitable you would have your NHS hearing equipment fitted at Specsavers. Then there would be full aftercare for three years following the fitting. All of that is included in the adult service, which is free at the point of access for the patient, but on the high street.
LS: Thanks very much Colin.