- Published on 09 February 2024
The giant UK retail group, Specsavers, has asked the Welsh Government to commission a national audiology and ear wax removal service delivered by community audiologists.
If commissioned, it would allow people to access NHS-funded hearing care on the high street as they can with eye health services, rather than having to travel to hospital. Specsavers says NHS waiting times would also be significantly reduced, particularly in remote communities which have the highest backlogs, and this would alleviate pressure on hospital services and local GPs.
At an event the group co-hosted with Natasha Asghar MS in the Welsh Parliament building, the Senedd, shadow ministers joined Specsavers' spokespersons in underlining the lack of accessible audiology services in Wales and a financial impact that is stressing the Welsh economy at a claimed cost of £1.2 billion per year.
The voice of Joel James (Conservative), Shadow Minister for Social Partnership, rang out in the assembly building: "In Wales, 125,000 people with hearing loss live alone, leaving them even more isolated and vulnerable. Frustratingly, while the NHS in Wales has long worked with high street opticians, dentists, doctors, and pharmacists to offer free NHS services, it doesn’t commission similar primary care services from audiologists. This has led to long waiting lists just for people to have a hearing test, let alone be fitted for hearing aids so I am actively challenging this."
Over half of people in Wales do nothing when they notice changes in their hearing
A Specsavers survey carried out by One Poll among 2,000 UK adults (100 people in Wales) in September 2023 found that one in four Welsh people have noticed changes in their hearing over the last ten years, but 53% have taken no action to address these changes.
Further relevant statistics were delivered by Angharad Morris, Head of clinical Engagement for Specsavers Audiology, who said: "527,000 people in Wales (around one in six) are either deaf or have hearing loss. Yet, NHS waiting lists for routine appointments such as hearing check-ups and ear wax removal are hitting all-time highs in Wales with 10,000 people waiting several months or longer to be seen."
"Specsavers is calling on the Welsh Government to commission these services so people with hearing issues can receive timely support in their local high street, similar to services offered in areas of England. This would improve their quality of life as well as minimise impact to their long-term health," added Morris.
Stigma about hearing solutions could also be impacted
Russell George (Conservative), Shadow Minister for Health & Chair of Health and Social Care Committee stressed the point that: "Making NHS hearing services more accessible on the high street would help to break down stigma and normalise hearing loss. This would result in more people getting their hearing checked if they have any concerns and also improve the quality of life for those who need hearing aids."
Speaking at this special Senedd event - Let Wales Be Heard - Chairman and co-founder of Specsavers Doug Perkins said: "Being Welsh born myself and carrying out my optometry studies at Cardiff University, improving access to hearing services in Wales is a cause that is very important to me. At Specsavers we believe passionately in the life-changing outcomes of hearing care. We are dedicated to driving forward these changes for people in Welsh communities."