A lack of accurate data is contributing to a £58bn bill for vision and hearing loss in the UK, according to a new report that calls on the government to support the first ever national survey of the UK population’s sensory needs.
Researchers and charities are now coming together to campaign for the first ever UK National Eye-health and Hearing Study (UKNEHS). The data generated by a detailed survey would help cut the cost to the economy and better inform policy makers and service providers, with a focus on prevention, they say.
Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chair of the executive board of the UKNEHS said: “The UK has not invested effectively in collecting population data for vision and hearing loss. The UKNEHS is of vital importance to current and future generations if we are serious about providing quality, evidence-based services in these areas.”
The case for investment, published by Vision UK, which works with organisations in the eye health and sight loss sector, outlines the details of the study. It would see 25,000 participants undergo an eye and hearing examination and complete a standardised general questionnaire.
Lord Colin Low, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment, stated: “If the UK is serious about reducing the levels of preventable visual impairment and hearing loss, then we must have the data that the UKNEHS will provide. If we don’t fund this kind of research we are saying that we accept that people living in the UK will lose their vision and hearing due to preventable causes, and that it is OK for them to live with hearing and vision loss that is treatable.”
The study will determine the prevalence and causes of vision impairment, blindness and hearing loss in the UK population aged 50 and over. It will also measure the detection and treatment coverage rate of major eye diseases and associated conditions, such as diabetes, in order to understand the effectiveness of current services.
Professor Rupert Bourne of Anglia Ruskin University, chief investigator of the UKNEHS, said: “Growing demand from an ageing population and increasing incidence of long-term conditions will exacerbate existing issues in the system. However, policy makers are completely in the dark about the scale of the problem because no comprehensive survey has ever been done in this country. Other countries across the world regularly survey their populations, allowing them to make informed decisions about care and treatment, identify trends and take action.
“We know the costs – to the NHS and the UK economy – of these issues runs into the tens of billions of pounds every year, so it is imperative that we understand more about our eye and hearing health, so that we can better address people’s needs and reduce costs.”
The UKNEHS brings together ARU, the Thomas Pocklington Trust, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the College of Optometrists.
The report has been submitted to the UK government. The UKNEHS is now asking the public to ask their MPs to support the project – email contact@UKNEHS.org.uk