“It’s time to talk about hearing,” says Specsavers

Specsavers’ Hearing Health Report highlights the workforce gap in audiology and calls for the development of community hearing services to ease pressure on stretched GPs and hospitals

man holding his ear

There are not enough audiologists in Britain to meet the growing demand for hearing care, Specsavers has stated, as it urges the audiology sector to work together to support and extend existing NHS capacity.

Publishing its 2024 Hearing Health Report on Thursday (27 June), Specsavers called for integrated services to meet need and the development of community hearing services “to ease pressure on stretched GPs and hospitals.”

The report explores equitable and timely access to hearing care in each of the UK’s four nations, the sector’s current workforce challenges, and looks ahead to change.

Specsavers hopes that new data and insight published in its report will result in commissioners, policy makers, service providers and professionals talking about hearing.

Published ahead of Thursday’s general election, the report is urging politicians to reduce pressure on GPs and other NHS hospital services by making more effective use of both capacity and the expertise that already exists in community services, where NHS care can be extended.

The report calls for the introduction of a nationally commissioned primary care audiology service in all communities that would supplement NHS hospital services, and improve access to care.

In statement released with the report, Specsavers emphasised that, “community-based primary care audiologists can work closely with hospital-based audiologists in secondary care to support more people.”

Furthermore, the report explains that reforming the commissioning of ear wax removal by primary care audiologists everywhere is important for removing a patient’s ability to pay for the service as a barrier to care. It adds that investment in better IT connectivity to link up primary and secondary ear and hearing care is another important step.

According to data released in the report, if these changes were adopted by government, Britain’s economy would receive a productivity boost worth £25bn.


Social responsibility

Professor Kevin Munro, Ewing professor of audiology at the NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre, who believes maintaining the hearing health of adults is a strong social responsibility, has contributed to the report.

Writing in the report, Munro stated that 18 million adults in the UK have hearing loss in at least one ear. This equates to more than one quarter of the UK population, the report highlights.

In the report, Munro said: “Hearing professionals, professional bodies and charities have a duty to raise awareness of the prevalence of hearing loss, the impact of untreated hearing loss on quality-of-life, and the proven benefits of hearing interventions for all ages.

He added: “Addressing hearing loss is also an important component of healthy ageing. I am pleased that this report focuses on the benefits – improving communication, wellbeing and living healthier for longer.”

Within the report, Specsavers shares a number of case studies from people including paramedic Christian, retired nurse Kathryn, and media officer Laurelle, who have all experienced hearing loss at different stages of their lives.

Providing the welcome, Yasmin Qureshi MP, draws on her own hearing loss experience, sharing how she felt embarrassed when the Speaker of the Commons called upon her to ask the question and she did not initially hear her name.

Providing an overview of the audiology sector and its difficulties, Qureshi emphasised: “It should concern us all that an estimated 45% of people who need treatment for adult-onset hearing loss are not under the care of hearing services.”

She highlighted that: “In many areas, the only way to access NHS audiology services is through your local hospital, following GP referral. Yet NHS England data shows the average waiting time for hospital adult audiology services is 18 weeks.”

Reflecting on the report, chief audiologist at Specsavers, Gordon Harrison, said: “Encouraging the use of hearing technology as a means of continuing employment, tackling stigma around the condition, and making hearing care services as accessible as possible, are vital for the nation’s health.”

The report can be read in full on the Specsavers website.