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01.04.13

Local authorities must capture the essential needs of people with hearing loss

Source: Public Sector Executive March/April 2013

Dr Pritti Mehta, head of research and policy at the charity Action on Hearing Loss, outlines the latest research into the provision of social care for people with hearing loss and explains why this is a critical time to highlight the importance of well-planned, accessible social services, that allocate resources in a cost effective way.

Ten million people in the UK have hearing loss, many of whom are living with one or more additional long-term conditions. The social care and support provided through local authorities are essential to many of these people, allowing them to stay healthy, maintain their independence and play an active role in their communities. However, service provision varies across local authorities, and in many areas, it has come under increased pressure from spending cuts.

‘Life Support’, a report published by Action on Hearing Loss, looks at how local authorities assess the needs of the local population with hearing loss; what services local authorities offer for those people who do and do not meet the eligibility criteria set by the local authority, and how accessible these services are. It also looks at how cuts have affected these services since the Coalition Government’s 2010 spending review.

On a positive note, the report, based on a survey of heads of adult sensory services in local authorities across England and Wales, revealed valuable insights into good practices by some local authorities, which can inspire others to follow suit. There are great examples of co-production between service users and authorities – in one case a group of service users are helping to write the hearing loss section of their local authorities’ needs assessment.

Other councils told us about a rich network of routes through which people can find out about the services available for those with hearing loss, including through other health professionals, third sector organisations, local events and community networks.

The report also captures a range of support on offer from individual authorities, including lipreading classes and BSL training, specialist rehabilitation services, family and peer support, as well as advice about equipment, housing benefit and independent living, which can make a huge impact in improving communication and confidence, and reducing social isolation experienced by people with hearing loss.

Improving services by assessing individual needs of people with hearing loss

However, the research also exposes worrying findings. In many cases, the needs of people with hearing loss are being systematically overlooked when authorities capture the needs of their populations, plan services and allocate resources. Only one-third of responding authorities include hearing loss when assessing the need for social care services, and only a quarter have a strategy dedicated to hearing loss.

In England, fewer than half of the responding authorities (46%), and in Wales, only two out of three, said the resource allocation system (RAS) they use for personal budgets allocates points for communication support needs, meaning many people living in these local populations are unlikely to have the costs of their communication needs met when accessing basic services such as banking, advice on benefits or housing, or health and social care.

We’re calling on local authorities to capture local requirements, firstly by including hearing loss in their joint strategic needs assessment – proper engagement with and planning to meet the needs of people with hearing loss is a necessary first step to securing high-quality services, and secondly by allocating proper resources for communication support through their RAS for all those who would benefit.

Increased pressures on funding, rising eligibility criteria thresholds and an ageing population mean this is a critical time to ensure that authorities plan and allocate resources fairly, and that services remain accessible for those who need them.

Hearing loss can be a very isolating condition. Furthermore, many people with severe hearing loss have one or more additional long-term conditions, and face worse health outcomes if their hearing loss is not addressed. Providing the proper support so that people with hearing loss can live independently and play an active part in their communities is crucial to avoid isolation and ensuing health problems, and to ensure that people are able to access the help they need for any other issues they may face.

Local authorities must become better at taking account of the needs of the many people in our society who have hearing loss, and ensure that services support people’s communication, dignity and independence. We hope the findings of this report will encourage local authorities to take action.

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