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Audiology – the fifth primary care service
Audiology – the fifth primary care service

Hearing problems, including earwax, reduced hearing and tinnitus, affect millions of adults in the UK. Early diagnosis and management of these and other hearing problems can help prevent further risks and reduce costs for all. That is why it is essential every adult in the UK has timely access to an audiology service.

The NCHA's view is that this should be delivered through an open-access primary care audiology service. This would allow all adults to visit their local audiologist just as they see a pharmacist, dentist or optician without needing a GP appointment.

A primary care audiology service would help normalise access to ear and hearing care and meet the growing hearing needs of our population. It would also free up millions of GP and hospital appointments for people who need medical care.

Learn more about the scale and impact of hearing loss below.

The scale and impact of hearing loss

In the UK, one in five adults (12 million people) currently have some form of hearing loss, and with an ageing population, this is expected to increase to over 14 million within 10 years. About 95% of people with a hearing loss are aged 40 and older.

Public health experts, the World Health Organization, NICE, and the NHS agree that hearing loss is a significant and growing public health issue. This is because unsupported hearing loss has a major impact on communication and increases the risk of:

  • Social isolation and loneliness
  • Depression
  • Cognitive decline
  • Dementia
  • Other mental health issues.

Despite the scale, impact, and suffering hearing loss causes, it is too often overlooked as a significant public health issue. Today, most people in the UK who would benefit from hearing care do not access it. That needs to change both for their benefit and to save longer term costs.

The need for action

Early diagnosis and management can help reduce the risks, impacts and costs associated with unaddressed hearing loss.

Each year, millions of people need access to ear and hearing care, hearing aids and advice, and support for tinnitus. These services should be accessible to all and barriers to timely care removed.

There are over 1,200 primary care audiology practices across the UK. Patients with the ability to pay can already access these services without having to see their GP or ENT first. Some NHS commissioners in England have commissioned the same care for NHS patients, improving equality of access and delivering care closer to home. This includes an at-home service for patients who cannot leave home unaided.

However, most patients still face barriers to accessing NHS-funded ear and hearing care. This results in delays and unnecessary GP and hospital visits which wastes patients' time and is not the best use or GP and hospital resources.

The NCHA is calling for all patients to have equal access to primary care audiology. We will work with governments, policymakers and commissioners across the UK to make this happen in affordable and sustainable ways.

To learn more about our work, please email us at [email protected]

22 February 2022

06 June 2024

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