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What we want to see from the next government: Hearing health

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Our Loud and Clear manifesto sets out what we want to see from an incoming government. In this series we explain the issues we are campaigning on. In this blog our Audiology Manager, Franki Oliver, sets out our calls to the next Government to ensure people have access to high quality NHS Audiology services, regular hearing checks, access to ear wax removal services, and increased funding for biomedical research into new treatments. 

At RNID, we’ve long campaigned for equal access to high quality NHS audiology services and hearing aids. This general election is an opportunity to get this message across to politicians. It’s vital the new Parliament prioritises hearing health so that people not only benefit from these essential services right now, but for years to come. 

Watch our Loud and Clear charity manifesto summary in BSL

Policy ask one: Improve audiology services to ensure high-quality care, tackle short-term problems around waiting lists and create a service fit for the future 

If you use hearing aids or cochlear implants, you’ll know how important it is to be able to see an audiologist when you need to. And we agree.  Audiology services are essential for millions of people across the UK. 

In recent years, audiology services have faced significant challenges: staff shortages, inadequate funding, and growing demand, combined with a substantial Covid-19 backlog. Unfortunately, many people in our communities are feeling the effects of this, such as long waiting times for appointments and difficulty getting timely and vital support for their hearing loss.  

These challenges are unlikely to be resolved without investment, but investment will provide huge benefits to services and patients. For example, providing funding to make existing technology more widely available, such as at home hearing aid tuning, could give people more choice about where they receive treatment. Using technology in this way could also reduce pressure on face-to-face audiology services. We see technology playing a significant role in improving audiology for everyone, both now and in the future. 

Policy ask two: Recognise the importance of identifying hearing loss early and introduce a national screening check to enable identification and intervention

Despite audiology facing these significant pressures, we also know that millions of people in the UK have hearing loss but do not seek help. This is partly because there is no process within the NHS to encourage people to regularly check their hearing.  

This goes against the strong evidence that shows managing hearing loss early reduces the risk of social isolation and health conditions such as depression and falls, and could reduce the risk of developing dementia. Managing hearing loss also greatly improves peoples’ quality of life. Therefore, it’s essential that hearing services are prioritised and hearing checks are regularly offered by the NHS. 

Policy ask three: Ensure patients have access to NHS ear wax removal services, in line with NICE Guidance, which are evidence-based recommendations for health and care in England and Wales 

Another key concern for our communities is access to NHS ear wax removal. Across the UK, people are only able to have ear wax removed on the NHS if their local area provides it, which not all do. This results in an unfair postcode lottery.  

Ear wax can cause symptoms such as temporary hearing loss, tinnitus and pain. But ear wax can also prevent the delivery of essential procedures, such as hearing tests in audiology. This can be extremely distressing if you’ve waited a long time for an appointment., but it also causes wasted appointments for the NHS, increasing waiting times and delaying access to vital hearing health care. 

Policy ask four: Increase the funding in research for treatments for hearing loss and tinnitus,  redressing a long-term under-investment in the field 

While investment in existing technology would be extremely helpful in the short term, there is also huge potential for investment in new and emerging technology which would allow for greater improvement of services. We want to see new technologies and treatments brought to patients in more convenient locations, which would free up vital time for audiologists to see more patients.  

Closely related to investment in new and existing technologies, investment in medical research into hearing loss and tinnitus is another key area for Government. Hearing loss and tinnitus research is underfunded, and this delays the point where people can benefit from treatments.  

Hearing health and audiology services must be given the resources they need, both to improve access to treatments now, but also to ensure people can get help for their hearing loss for years to come. We believe these demands  will help this happen. We will be setting out these calls to candidates and, after the election, Members of Parliament.  

We’ll be publishing articles up until the 4 July general election, outlining the demands of our ‘Loud and Clear’ charity manifesto.

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Watch our Loud and Clear charity manifesto summary in BSL
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