Hearing healthcare not fit for purpose

Soundfair’s CEO Dr Caitlin Barr appeared in a story that was syndicated to 112 publications, including Daily Mail, Canberra Times, West Australian, Newcastle Herald and 7 News. If you missed it, you can read it here: https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7534574/hearing-loss-in-one-in-10-at-risk-kids/?cs=14264.

Papers published today in the Public Health Research and Practice journal, co-sponsored by Soundfair, demonstrate that hearing healthcare in Australia is not fit for purpose.

From the inequities associated with navigating the health system as a Deaf person, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, (Carty & Beaver) to recognising that cultural safety is a prerequisite for access (Kong, Calma & Rambaldini), each of the eight papers highlight an area in urgent need of reform.

The paper by Nash et al starkly highlights that the interconnectedness of disadvantage and hearing status starts young. In socio-economically disadvantaged children, middle ear disease such as otitis media is more prevalent, while access to primary healthcare is poorer and educational supports are more limited, the authors say.

Looking more broadly, Willink et al’s paper “Changes in US hearing aid regulations: possible benefits and risks to Australia” states “Addressing the affordability of hearing services and devices is critical to improving access to hearing treatment in Australia” and concludes that “the model and reimbursement of hearing care in Australia needs to evolve to guarantee optimal functional hearing and communication outcomes for anyone with hearing loss.”

Soundfair CEO Dr Caitlin Barr says “The importance of the publication of this body of research cannot be understated. As a consumer organisation, Soundfair amplifies the diverse voices of people with lived experience of hearing loss to advocate for change – people are more than just ears and hearing loss requires more than just devices. The message needs to get through: the impacts of hearing conditions are more than physical, they’re social and emotional. As the lead editorial states: ‘we need to look holistically at the broader determinants of health to recognise that the true needs of people with hearing loss and deafness exceed amplification of sound’.

“Since the launch of the Federal Government’s Roadmap for Hearing Health in 2019, we have seen a slew of announcements, but progress remains slow. Decision makers must be held to account to ensure hearing loss and deafness are positioned as a public health priority. Hearing loss and deafness are invisible, but their impacts as social determinants of health cannot be hidden. By 2050, it is predicted that one in four Australians will be living with hearing loss. For far too long hearing loss has been stigmatised rather than widely acknowledged as experience that requires society-wide action.”