Community-based support for people with hearing loss is under serious threat

Written by: Delia Henry, Director, Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

Published: 17/03/2015

Locally delivered partnerships are the key for the future of support and services for people with hearing loss.

Getting used to wearing hearing aids takes time and peer support can often make the difference between someone persevering with their hearing aids or giving up and leaving them in a drawer, missing out on conversations and being socially isolated from friends, family and neighbours.

Action on Hearing Loss Scotland’s Hear to Help services in the NHS Tayside, NHS Ayrshire & Arran, NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, and NHS Borders health board areas have provided free support to more than 5,000 people with hearing loss each year during regular drop-in sessions in community centres and libraries, as well as through home visits to people living in nursing and care homes or sheltered housing.

Our volunteers, many of whom have hearing loss, are trained by NHS audiology to clean ear moulds or replace tubing and batteries – support which should free up audiologists’ time to focus on testing hearing, fitting hearing aids and providing specialist services.

This locally delivered support benefits older people who are less mobile or housebound by enabling them to hear more clearly and live independently without the need to travel to hospital. You get a sense of how much travelling is reduced when you consider people using our Tayside service saved journeys totaling 11,500 miles – the equivalent of Dundee to Dunedin, New Zealand!

Unfortunately, our services are under serious threat and the doors of our much-loved Hear to Help in Galashiels closed for the last time today. It was our flagship service – running from 2007 initially with Scottish Government funding and then with Trusts monies. NHS Borders would not commit to supporting Hear to Help to become a sustainable service and our 600 service users now face travelling from remote rural communities to Borders General Hospital.

According to responses to FOI requests for our Under Pressure report, only six of Scotland’s 14 health board audiology departments provide aftercare support in the people’s homes and only four provide a service for care home residents. The prospect of Hear to Help closing in Greater Glasgow is particularly alarming for the 1,000 people we support in their homes.

We had a fantastic response to our Save Hear To Help emergency appeal with people donating three times more funding than expected to keep our three remaining services running short-term – but this situation is not sustainable and closures seem inevitable.

We welcomed the Scottish Government’s See Hear strategy which recognises that the “key to the success of the Strategy will be person-centred local partnership working between statutory and third sector agencies” and were delighted to be involved in the development, consultation and piloting of the Ayrshire & Arran Sensory Locality Plan.

Unfortunately, we have continued to face barriers preventing our participation in strategic discussions about the delivery and funding of sustainable services which could benefit both people with hearing loss and NHS services.

The time has come for third sector organisations to be considered as genuinely equal partners within the local See Hear partnerships – otherwise critical services such as Hear to Help will continue to face major challenges to survival and clients will increasingly experience unnecessary hardship.

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Action on Hearing Loss Scotland

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