Audiologists are skilled clinicians and should be the first point of contact for access to NHS ear and hearing care in all localities. This would save millions of GP and hospital appointments each year and improve patients' access to treatment.
12 million people have a permanent hearing loss in the UK, and with an ageing population this is expected to grow to over 14 million within 10 years. Over 95% of people with a hearing loss are aged 40 and older. In addition to this, each year, over two million adults require support for impacted earwax.
Those with the ability to pay have always been able to access ear and hearing care without the need to see a GP or visit an ENT department. However, for too long, those who can't afford to pay have been required to see their GP before being referred for NHS care.
There is no evidence that adults need a GP opinion before booking an audiology appointment or that GPs play an effective NHS gatekeeping role in this area.
Providing open access to primary care audiology allows adults to see a clinician who can perform the necessary diagnostic tests and assess whether patients also need a medical opinion - most do not. As a matter of equity, every adult with a hearing problem should be able to visit their local community audiologist without first seeing their GP in the same way as they can access other NHS primary care services such as their dentist, optician, GP or pharmacist.
This delivers faster care, close to home, and reduces pressure and costs on GPs and the NHS. This is why we are calling for open access audiology for all adults.
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29 October 2021