More than two years since the Social Services and Wellbeing Act came in to force, the charity Action on Hearing Loss Cymru says many people who are deaf or have hearing loss are still not getting the care they are entitled to.
575,500 people in Wales are deaf or have a hearing loss, the equivalent of the populations of Cardiff and Swansea combined.
Action on Hearing Loss has supported around a thousand people through its Live Well with Hearing Loss service, which aims to increase independence and enable people who are deaf or have hearing loss to self-manage their condition.
The charity found many common issues that need to be addressed, most significantly the inconsistency in the implementation of the Social Services and Wellbeing Act.
79-year-old Mary James (pictured) from Caerphilly has been deaf since she contracted meningitis aged 10. Mary says she was put in danger because she couldn’t get the support she needed, “My carbon monoxide detector and fire alarms, which both flash and vibrate if there is a leak or fire, weren’t working. I contacted social services and they tried to get me to fix it myself, which was much too complicated. I was really worried about my safety.
“I also told social services that my flashing doorbell and text phone had both broken but was told they couldn’t be repaired or replaced. I was cut off from the world and felt isolated and vulnerable.
“Luckily I was able to get help from Action on Hearing Loss Cymru, who referred me to places for help, but I was disappointed to learn that social services should have come out and assessed me by finding out what I need to be able to live independently. This just didn’t happen.
“The support from social services has changed dramatically. When I was younger you’d be supported by social workers who understood what it means to be deaf, they could use sign language or could help me to lipread them. But social workers aren’t trained to work in specific areas of sensory loss anymore.”
Rebecca Woolley, Director of Action on Hearing Loss Cymru said, “Anecdotally, we heard from many people supported by our service who said they don’t understand their hearing loss and don’t get the support they need after diagnosis. This means that people are unaware that they are entitled to be assessed by social services and given support to be able to live independently.
“Under the law, Mary should have been assessed by someone who understood deafness and hearing loss, who could have looked at what she needs to be independent and supported her to receive it. Mary has a smart phone and we’re working with her to identify free apps that are available to replace her broken text phone. This would have been a much cheaper and more effective alternative than simply saying that her text phone was out of date and could not be replaced.
“We are now working with Welsh Government to create revised guidance for local authorities when commissioning and providing services for people who are deaf or have hearing loss and want to support local authorities after publication to ensure it is fully implemented.
“Our service has also shown that there is an opportunity for local audiology departments and social services teams to work together, so that when someone is diagnosed with hearing loss they are empowered to understand what it means, the assistive technology or equipment available to them, and the choices they face.”
The charity’s research also found that too many people are unaware of how to contact social services and how to get an assessment, did not fully understand how to use the equipment they were given to help with their hearing loss, and have little or no knowledge of their own hearing loss, making supporting people more difficult as they are unclear of their diagnosis. These problems all add to the feelings of isolation and loneliness experienced by many people with hearing loss.
The Social Services and Wellbeing Act came into force in April 2016 and governs how public services are delivered. The Act says disabled people (including those who are deaf or have hearing loss) should:
- Be asked what matters to them and be given a strong voice when deciding what they need to achieve wellbeing
- Be assessed on what they can do and support arranged to achieve what they can’t do.
Action on Hearing Loss Cymru is releasing the findings from the first two years of the Live Well with Hearing Loss service, which is a three-year scheme, funded by the Welsh Government’s sustainable Social Services Third Sector Grant.
The findings from the first two years of this work were launched in a report at the National Assembly for Wales this week.
To read the full report, visit: www.actiononhearingloss.org.uk/wales
Picture (c) Action on Hearing Loss Cymru.