High street chain Specsavers is to start providing NHS hearing aid services in Brighton and Hove.
The company will begin carrying out tests and fitting aids at its branch in North Street, Brighton, from the beginning of February.
It will also run sessions at Hove Library in Church Road.
The service, which will still be free, is aimed at people aged 55 and over with age-related hearing loss.
It is being provided in addition to the one currently provided by Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.
People will be given the choice of either using Specsavers or the hospital trust’s services at Royal Sussex County Hospital, Hove Polyclinic, County Oak Medical Centre and Mile Oak Medical Centre.
All patients will need to be referred by their GP to access the service.
Health bosses say the aim is to give people more choice and to make it easier to get access to the services they need.
Xavier Nalletamby, the chairman of Brighton and Hove clinical commissioning group, said: “One in six people in the UK have some form of hearing loss.
“We hope that by normalising the process we will also encourage earlier identification, diagnosis and management of hearing loss and reduce avoidable permanent hearing loss.
“This is not about saving money, this is about making the service more easily available.”
NHS in talks
NHS Brighton and Hove is in talks with other organisations about running services at other sites.
The hospital trust will gradually phase out the service it provides as other organisations step in. This has left the 20 people in its audiology department facing an uncertain future.
GMB organiser Gary Palmer said: “The news today confirming the privatisation of frontline audiology services is bad news for the future of the department and service.”
The move is expected to be met with concern by people campaigning against the growing number of private companies being offered NHS services.
The Argus revealed earlier this year that £1 in every £10 spent by the NHS on healthcare in Sussex is going to private companies.
More than £267 million was paid out in one year to private firms to treat NHS patients.
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