The official government guidance is that we should have our eyes and teeth checked at least every two years to maintain optimum health and catch any problems early. The NHS meets some of the cost of this screening, providing free eye tests in certain circumstances (for under 16s and over 60s, students etc.) and meeting most of the cost of routine dental checks.

But when it comes to our hearing – no less important as one the five vital human senses – the picture is quite different. Despite the fact that hearing loss affects over 10 million adults and 45,000 children in the UK (1 in 6 of the population), very few people ever get their hearing checked.[1] Most seek help only once they become aware of a problem, with the average person waiting 1-2 years, with some waiting up to 40! [2]

We take a prepared and preventative approach with our eyes, but not with our ears – even though we know that early identification and intervention can make a huge difference in stopping problems developing and ensuring better hearing health throughout life.

BIHIMA is therefore joining many other organisations in calling for routine hearing checks to become the new normal, endorsing the motto “eyes checked, teeth checked, hearing checked”.[3] We also support the Action on Hearing Loss campaign for a screening programme for all people at age 65.[4] Currently, the NHS assesses the hearing health of new babies through the Newborn Hearing Screening Programme, but the most recent review by the UK National Screening Committee did not support screening for hearing loss in adults.

This needs to change. Not only would a screening programme and “a new normal” approach improve the quality of life for millions of people, through early identification and treatment, but the cost to the whole of society would be lessened. The UK loses approximately £25 billion a year in productivity and unemployment as a result of poor hearing health: 30% of people of working age with severe hearing loss are unemployed. Those with impaired hearing are also at much higher risk of developing depression, anxiety, and also dementia.[5]

Action on Hearing Loss estimates that a hearing screening programme for people aged 65 would cost £255 million over 10 years, but the benefits across this period would amount to over £2 billion: a 10-year benefit-to-cost ratio of 8:1.

BIHIMA member organisations know that these big numbers represent millions of individual lives which can be transformed through the right hearing solutions.  Any approach which raises awareness of the importance of maintaining good hearing health, and hastens access to the life-changing technology we create, is not only desirable: it is absolutely vital.