As a leading audiology expert, Phonak very much welcomes new guidance published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence), which urges General Practitioners (GPs) to respond at the very first signs that hearing loss is affecting the lives of their patients.
According to NICE, GPs should end the practice of using ‘arbitrary thresholds’ when deciding what to do about hearing loss and instead act at the first signs of impairment.
The new guidelines have a very wide impact. Hearing charity Action on Hearing Loss estimates that more than 40% of people over 50 years old have hearing loss, rising to 71% of people over the age of 70. And NICE estimates that by 2035 there will be around 13 million people with hearing loss in England – that’s a fifth of the population.
The new NICE guidelines come after a number of high profile cases in the press that revealed some NHS trusts had stopped making hearing aids available to those with mild hearing loss and were also making only limited provision for those with moderate hearing loss. It had also become clear that the care offered to people with hearing difficulties varied extensively, depending on where they lived and which NHS Trust served their area.
It is believed that in some areas two-thirds of patients face delays in having their hearing loss diagnosed and accurately managed. Just as worrying, some patients who would benefit from hearing aids in both ears receive only a single aid in a bid to save money. This is widely seen as a false economy since the resulting complications can lead to costly treatments further down the line.
The NICE guidelines suggest that GPs should offer patients “options for managing their hearing needs, such as acoustic or bone conduction hearing aids, assistive listening devices and communication strategies”. It goes on to explain that some may need referrals for “implantable devices such as cochlear implants, bone-anchored hearing aids, middle-ear implants or auditory brainstem implants” and that their condition should be thoroughly assessed from the very beginning.
Another important issue raised is the importance of referring adults with diagnosed or suspected dementia or mild cognitive impairment to an audiology service for a hearing assessment because hearing loss is a common complication in such cases.
At Phonak, we believe that provision and access to care should never be restricted. We welcome the new NICE guidelines and look forward to faster and more effective diagnostic protocols being implemented by GPs across the UK, not least because Phonak’s wide experience shows that providing patients with the right hearing aids at the first sign of hearing impairment not only has a huge impact on their quality of life, but also on the progress of their hearing impairment in future years.