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Calls for policy change to address hearing crisis in Wales

Russell George MS speaking to attendees

Specsavers is calling on the Welsh Government to improve access to community audiology services for everyone in Wales.

On 6th February, Specsavers alongside host Natasha Asghar MS held an event in the Senedd, ‘Let Wales Be Heard’, to ask the Welsh Government to commission a national audiology and ear wax removal service delivered by community audiologists.

If commissioned it would allow people to access NHS-funded hearing care on the high street, just like eye health services, rather than having to travel to hospital. NHS waiting times would also be significantly reduced, particularly in remote communities which have the highest backlogs, and this would alleviate pressure on hospital services and local GPs.

(l-r) Russell George MS, Annie Morris, Doug Perkins, Natasha Asghar MS, Joel James MS

Speaking from the Senedd, Angharad Morris, Head of Clinical Engagement for Specsavers Audiology said: ‘527,000 people in Wales (around 1 in 6) are either deaf or have hearing loss. Yet, NHS waiting lists for routine appointments such as hearing check-ups and ear wax removal are hitting all-time highs in Wales with 10,000 people waiting several months or longer to be seen. Specsavers is calling on the Welsh Government to commission these services so people with hearing issues can receive timely support in their local high street, similar to services offered in areas of England. This would improve their quality of life as well as minimise impact to their long-term health.’

The lack of accessible audiology services is causing a financial strain on the Welsh economy, with hearing loss costing £1.2 billion per year.

Hearing loss is also detrimental to people’s health. Experts say using hearing aids to manage hearing loss is the single biggest thing people can do to reduce their risk of dementia, eliminating the risk for 8% of people.

The policy changes would also have a positive impact on working life expectancy. Research shows 41% of people retired early due to hearing loss. It is therefore essential people in Wales can easily access hearing care.

Joel James, Shadow Minister for Social Partnership, said in the Welsh Parliament: “As someone who suffers from hearing loss and wears hearing aids, one of my top priorities is to help those in a similar position. Sadly, hearing loss has a massive impact on our cognitive health, leading to dementia, and mental health issues. In Wales, 125,000 people with hearing loss live alone, leaving them even more isolated and vulnerable. Frustratingly, while the NHS in Wales has long worked with high street opticians, dentists, doctors, and pharmacists to offer free NHS services, it doesn’t commission similar primary care services from audiologists. This has led to long waiting lists just for people to have a hearing test, let alone be fitted for hearing aids so I am actively challenging this.

New research by Specsavers found 1 in 4 Welsh people (40%) have noticed changes in their hearing over the last 10 years, but over half (53%) have taken no action to address these changes.

Russell George, Shadow Minister for Health & Chair of Health and Social Care Committee said at the Senedd: ‘Making NHS hearing services more accessible on the high street would help to break down stigma and normalise hearing loss. This would result in more people getting their hearing checked if they have any concerns and also improve the quality of life for those who need hearing aids.’

Doug Perkins, Chairman and Co-Founder of Specsavers and hearing aids wearer says; ‘Specsavers was set up to ensure everyone has access to care. Being Welsh born myself and carrying out my optometry studies at Cardiff University, improving access to hearing services in Wales is a cause that is very important to me. At Specsavers we believe passionately in the life-changing outcomes of hearing care. We are dedicated to driving forward these changes for people in Welsh communities.’