Study seeks to understand the prevalence of sight and hearing loss in the UK

The College of Optometrists’ Mike Bowen spoke at the Hospital and Specialty Optometrists Conference about the UK National Eye Health and Hearing Study

The UK National Eye Health and Hearing Study (UKNEHS), which has been developed in order to gather population-level data on the prevalence and causes of sight and hearing loss in the UK, enters its pilot phase this month.

Speaking at the Hospital and Specialty Optometrists Conference (HSOC) at the University of Warwickshire earlier this month (4–5 November), Mike Bowen, director of knowledge and research at the College of Optometrists, updated delegates on the study to date.

The pilot of the study will start imminently, Bowen shared, with the first ethical approval for the care home phase looking at 250 people in this setting due to start late November and continue through to January. In spring 2024, the community section of the pilot will begin.

Through the study, researchers are aiming to collect vision and hearing loss data from 25,000 people across the UK.

Bowen explained: “We will select a random sample of people to participate – the statisticians who are working with us have calculated the number that we need to get a reliable estimate of the prevenance of blindness for the UK population, and that number is 25,000.”

Participants sought for the study will be over the age of 50.

Commenting on the age range of the study, Bowen told OT: “The prevalence of the major eye diseases goes up dramatically over the age of 50… To get a statistically reliable sample for say, everyone over 18, we would have to get data from a couple of million people and that seemed too big of an ask as funding would have been quite extraordinary.”

Through questionnaires, study participants will also be asked about their experience of eye and hearing care services in order to provide insight into the barriers of access across the country.

“We will be asking people to fill in some questionnaires about their self-reported quality of life, their activities of daily living, the things they can do and can’t do, and we will be able to then look at how vision loss and hearing loss may affect what people can do,” Bowen said.

Bowen said that to date, all work on the study has been funded by charities and organisations such as the College of Optometrists. He highlighted that while it is hard to estimate the costs of a complete study until the pilot phase is complete, it is currently felt that the UKNEHS study will cost £15m.

Highlighting data to express the importance of the study, Bowen shared that Certificate of Visual Impairment (CVI) data shows that in 2021 almost 3000 people were losing their sight due to glaucoma and nearly 1000 lost sight due to diabetes.

“These are things that we should be preventing… that’s in one year. And while the total of 4000 people from those two causes may not sound like a big number, the lifetime cost for glaucoma and impairment due to glaucoma is currently estimated at about £50,000,” he highlighted.

“On a human level, we have to do better at looking at looking at what that true level of vision impairment is, because if that’s what is coming through the CVI, I think we can be reasonably confident that there’s a lot more out there that we are not seeing.”