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Taking forward action for the millions with hearing loss

Following a speech at the Ear Foundation, Deputy CSO Fiona Carragher highlights the achievements of the Action Plan for Hearing Loss, and reflects on the importance of coordinated action to ensure high quality care for all.

Everybody appreciates the importance of hearing as one of our five basic senses which connect us with the world around us. What is becoming increasingly apparent is not just the obvious impact that hearing loss can have on activities of daily living, but the profound and wide-reaching impact it can have on broader areas of our heath.

Where hearing loss affects our ability to communicate with others, it interferes with our ability to get prompt and efficient care for physical health problems. It can cause isolation, which can drive or exacerbate mental health problems. There is even a growing body of evidence of a direct link with the development and progression of dementia.

With 10 million people in this country living with some level of hearing loss, this becomes a pressing issue for the whole health and care system and broader society. Hearing loss is a key part of wider sensory health that is key to underpinning wellbeing. This is why NHS England coordinated the cross-government initiative that led to the publication of the Action Plan on Hearing Loss in 2015, working with a variety of government departments, public bodies, patient and expert groups.

The driving purpose is to tackle the rising prevalence of the condition; the personal, social and economic costs of uncorrected hearing loss and the variation in access and quality of services experienced by people living with hearing loss.

Given the prevalence and wide-ranging impact of hearing loss, the Action Plan is explicit that improvements require an integrated approach across public, private and third sectors, with the need to encourage action and promote change across all sectors and at all ages.

Over the last two years much has been done to deliver real and tangible improvements for these 10 million people. NHS England has looked at the area we can make most impact, publishing the Commissioning Framework for Hearing Loss, which sets out very clearly what people with the condition should expect to receive from those organising and providing services in their locality. The Commissioning Framework is explicit in setting out access and outcomes standards and provides clear standards to ensure high quality services are provided consistently and equitably across the country.

Most recently, we have turned our focus to how best we can ensure organisations support individuals as they take their personal journey through the system, so these individuals have a positive experience and can lead successful, fulfilling & independent lives. In particular we have produced the first three guides covering key stages across the life course: the transition to adulthood; hearing loss and employment and hearing loss and healthy ageing.

Each guide has been carefully tailored, as the challenges at each life stage can be different – from the need for clear information, support and services supporting emotional development as people become adults, through to staying well and supporting independence as people grow older.  Throughout all this some key principles hold true: Detecting hearing loss early; keeping watch for signs of hearing loss; including hearing management in care planning; training care staff and managing the environment.

Of course there is still much to be done, and NHS England has a clear and coordinated programme of developments for the year ahead including a ‘What Works’ guide on Mental Health, work with care homes on the dementia link, ensuring the Commissioning Framework is kept up to date and promoted and developing key evidence-based messages to drive prevention.

Across the NHS it is increasingly evident how important collaboration and partnership to delivering improved quality, and the Action Plan on Hearing Loss is an exemplar model of this. I have been deeply heartened by the progress that has been made to date and am confident that – working together – we can make further inroads in this important area of health and care.

Fiona Carragher

Fiona Carragher is the Deputy Chief Scientific Officer for England, supporting the head of profession for the 50,000 healthcare science workforce in the NHS and associated bodies – embracing more than 50 separate scientific specialisms. A Consultant Clinical Biochemist by background, Fiona has a broad portfolio of policy responsibilities, providing professional leadership and expert clinical advice across the health and care system as well as working with senior clinical leaders within both the NHS England and the wider NHS.

Fiona has a strong background in both public health and treatment & care, having led and worked in multi-professional teams for two decades at Guy’s & St Thomas’ Hospital, the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Edinburgh and Kings College Hospital, London – with a focus on providing high quality, innovative laboratory services. More recently she led a number of specialised laboratories for the diagnosis and monitoring of inherited metabolic disease and was Director of Newborn Screening for the South East Thames Region.

She has led a number of broader healthcare science projects including technology adoption and leadership development, and created a proactive scientific and diagnostics network across London that supports quality improvement and effective commissioning.

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