Chime, the national charity for deafness and hearing loss, is holding its first-ever hearing screening tests in Leinster House to highlight the social and mental impact of unaddressed hearing loss in Irish adults.
The charity is seeking a commitment from Mr Stephen Donnelly TD, the Minister for Health, to tackle the long audiology waiting lists and establish a working group to develop a national strategy to manage the issue of unaddressed hearing loss and its long-term costs to the State.
TDs and Senators were invited to have their ears screened by the charity’s senior audiologist Sarah O’Sullivan.Mr Willie O’Dea TD was one of the politicians to have his ears screened and he said, “Hearing is one of the five senses and people who have hearing difficulties have to go through life at a great disadvantage. It is intolerable that there should be a delay in hearing aids in a country that is one of the most prosperous in the world. It represents an infringement of a basic human right”.
There are approximately 20,000 adults and children on the HSE’s audiology waiting lists, double what they were in 2014. Commenting on this figure, Mark Byrne, chief executive of Chime, said, “At present, the government does not have a strategy to deal with hearing loss, so we have a piecemeal system with a lot of duplication that is wasting precious resources. There are major gaps with people falling through them and being left behind completely. “
“Measures to tackle the long waiting lists for audiology tests and the establishment of a departmental working group in the Department of Health is vital to developing a cohesive, efficient and caring strategy that addresses the hearing needs of the Irish adult population and in turn, reduces the financial health burden on the State in the coming years,” Byrne continued.
The charity states that 8% of the adult population, 300,000 people, have a significant hearing loss and require hearing aids. Research by TILDA* shows that only one in five people with hearing loss have them. Chime’s research in 2022 cites costs as one of the main reasons for this low uptake.
Although medical card holders are entitled to basic hearing aids, many non-medical card holders cannot afford them, even with the current PRSI grant.
In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that for every euro invested in addressing hearing loss, governments could expect a return of almost €17 over the following ten years, through reduced demand for health services in areas such as mental health and cognitive decline, and increased independence and productivity for those getting timely support for their hearing loss.
Commenting on this finding, Brendan Lennon, head of advocacy at Chime, said, “The negative health consequences of hearing loss are considerable. For example, timely treatment could reduce the incidence of dementia by 8%, saving up to €100m per year alone, while approximately 50,000 older people are depressed or have depressive symptoms due to unaddressed hearing loss. Addressing hearing loss in a timely fashion can improve people’s quality of life and significantly reduce health costs.
We are calling on the Minister for Health to listen to the WHO, to accept that we need to greatly improve our current approach to managing hearing loss, and to take action now”, Lennon continued. Chime is the national charity for Deafness and Hearing Loss. For over 50 years, it has championed for equal rights, greater accessibility and opportunities to support individuals with tinnitus, deafness and hearing loss.