Hearing loss is one of the major challenges facing society and a huge public health issue. It affects over 11 million people in the UK – one in six of the population. As our society ages, this number is set to grow. By 2035, one in five people in the UK will have hearing loss.
Hearing loss leads to social isolation, mental health issues, lost employment opportunities and a poor quality of life. Now is a crucial time for us to act to improve services and awareness so that people can take action. Promoting public health and ensuring early diagnosis and support also make economic and social sense. There has been no better time to address this issue as the hearing technology available through digital hearing aids, cochlear implants and other interventions holds out the promise of a better quality of life for millions of people. Investment in services to ensure better health and quality of life makes sense for Government and society.
However, only one in three people who could benefit from hearing aids currently have them. This means that four million people in the UK have unaddressed hearing loss. On top of that, people are not diagnosed with hearing loss in a systematic fashion. And people do not act quickly – research suggests that on average, people take 10 years to seek help.
Evidence also suggests that GPs fail to refer up to 45% of people who report hearing loss. Moreover, services such as health and social care are not well integrated. And lip-reading classes and hearing therapy, which are vitally helpful for people with hearing loss, are at risk of closure or decline.
People who are deaf or hard of hearing often do not have the same access to education and employment as hearing people do. Reasonable adjustments are not always made to accommodate communication needs. People with hearing loss also face a lack of deaf and deafblind awareness, and a lack of communication support. This means there are often barriers stopping people with hearing loss taking full control over their lives and the services they receive.