Action Plan on Hearing Loss

Did you know that England has an action plan on hearing loss?

What is it?

It was published in March 2015 by NHS England and the Department of Health. Whilst that makes it nearly a year old, I wanted to write a short blog post about it as a scene setter, because its due for an annual review which, if its publication date is anything to go by, should be due out in the next few months.

Essentially, its a 44 page document (although only the first 25 relate to the plan itself) highlighting the impact of hearing loss on the population with the intention being to “encourage action and promote change across all levels of public service”, and to “provide a rallying call to all those involved to deliver improved hearing outcomes and support for individuals and the population at whatever level they operate.”  Its target audience appears predominantly to be NHS commissioners and Clinical Commissioning groups.

What’s the angle?

Published by NHS England, its focus is unsurprisingly on the burden that hearing loss places on the NHS. However, it does explore the impact of hearing loss on education and employment and also the association with other conditions such as depression and dementia.  It also highlights the variation in access to NHS services and notes that one in three adults suffering significant hearing loss, reports problems in accessing and using hearing aids.

The document then sets out the actions to be taken by NHS England alongside other partners to improve services for children, young people, working age and older adults living with hearing loss. It has a particular focus on improving hearing services for veterans given the significant issues faced by them in relation to exposure to noisy environments and severe blast trauma.

With regard to working age adults, the report highlights the higher levels of unemployment for people with hearing loss (30% of those of working age with severe hearing loss are unemployed) and the impact of hearing loss on the UK economy (which includes more than £25 billion a year in productivity and unemployment).  By 2020, it forecasts, at least 1 in 10 adults between the ages of 40-69 will have a substantial hearing loss and the need to provide support if they are to work until this age.

What are the recommendations?

Not so much recommendations but the document does set out five objectives as follows:

  1. Good prevention – for example reducing the numbers of young people and adults with noise induced hearing loss; including through immunisation and screening and utilising quality data to understand the social, financial and personal health advantages
  2. Early diagnosis – for example improving outcomes for babies with hearing loss, increasing identification of the number of children and adults in at risk groups
  3. Providing patient-centred Integrated services – for example reducing developmental and educational gaps due to childhood hearing loss and increasing the number of children, young people and adults with a personalised care plan
  4. Ensuring those with a diagnosis of hearing loss do not become isolated – for example including access to technology including support by mobile or tele healthcare and improving access to wider health services from primary to end of life care
  5. Ensuring the ability for everyone to participace in ever-day activities including work – for example including improving employment opportunities for young people and adults and reducing development and attainment gaps between deaf and hearing children

Much of the user perspective in the report appears to be derived from the findings of surveys of 6-7000 people undertaken by Action on Hearing Loss. These highlight the need to reduce stigma relating to hearing loss, design public services and spaces to support good communication, provide better communication support in the workplace and undertake more research into the causes and management of hearing loss and tinnitus.

So what’s in it for working age adults?

The final section of the report refers to the five objectives in the plan and sets out supporting actions to be undertaken by NHS England and its partners. Whilst there isn’t a ‘working age adult’ section to the report, many of the actions that are set out have relevance across the life course, including to working age adults.

Prevention, there is a strong emphasis on reducing risk of hearing loss amongst military personnel and of working with industry stakeholders to improve compliance with the Control of Noise at Work regulations.

Early diagnosis, ensuring that NHS programmes support early recognition and diagnosis of hearing loss with particular emphasis on disadvantaged and at risk groups.

Integrated Services, there is a proposal to introduce both a procurement strategy and a Commissioning Framework for the NHS to source innovative and cost saving technology, combined with the production of tools and resources to help local Health and Wellbeing Boards and Clinical Commissioning Groups to assess local needs (I’ve previously offered some suggestions on how to do this), ensuring that hearing is included in local Health and Wellbeing Strategies.

Preventing Isolation and ensuring participation in everyday activities – the final two objectives have no specific actions relating to working age adults and instead focuses on actions relating to both children and older adults.

Some thoughts 

Firstly, its great to see that hearing loss has been recognised in this way and is being acted upon.  The action plan has some very high level but ambitious objectives and whilst they aren’t specifically targeted at working age adults, I can see that they are intended to introduce change to a range of age groups that will also impact on those of working age.

Its good too, to see that some of the objectives are working up-stream and focused around prevention, balanced by others that offer practical responses in the form of commissioning guidance for the NHS and raising awareness by encouraging strategic responses at local Government and clinical commissioning group level.

Given that the document is a year old now, it seems pointless now to pour over the content in more detail (there is a lot I’ve missed out), but I just wanted to bring it to your attention before the annual update is published later this year.

It will be interesting to see what progress has been made.

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