BIHIMA (The British Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association) and RCGP (The Royal College of GPs) have once again collaborated to update the existing hearing loss toolkit, hosted on the RCGP website.

Funded by BIHIMA and featured on the RCGPs website, the hearing loss toolkit is designed to support primary care practitioners with quick reference information that can be easily accessed when a patient presents with concerns.

The toolkit also provides guidance to ensure GP surgeries are hearing loss friendly. First developed in 2020/2021, the 2024 iteration of the project adds subject areas that are key to understanding hearing loss and the conditions associated with it.

“It was important to us to support this new development of the hearing loss toolkit because the landscape for hearing loss has changed enormously since we first launched the resource. It now includes information and training on subjects such as dementia and hearing loss, tinnitus management, balance and vertigo, and paediatric audiology. It also shares guidance on screening and evaluation of hearing loss, a vital first assessment for many who go to their GP surgery for help when experiencing deafness or dizziness,” said BIHIMA Chairman, Paul Surridge.

In addition, the funding has enabled RCGP to move the toolkit to a new section on their website: a specially designed resource hub that provides easier use and navigation for clinicians.

Dr Devina Maru is a practising GP with a specialist interest in ENT, who is the lead for the project and has written the toolkit content. She said: “We were so pleased to receive further funding for the toolkit, because it means that we can help primary care colleagues across the country support more people impacted by hearing loss. As a GP, I want to empower people with hearing loss; to enable them to fully participate in their health care from initial consultation to ongoing treatment. I am passionate about raising awareness and educating GPs and trainees to help reduce current variations in accessibility to GP practices: the newly improved and expanded toolkit is an important step in doing that.”

The toolkit was launched during a webinar organised by Dr. Maru, where over 400 people registered to hear from a panel that included Devina herself, alongside Crystal Rolfe (Director for Strategy at the Royal National Institute for Deaf People), Jack Stancel-Lewis (Healthcare Science Fellow and Audiologist) and Jean Straus (patient advocate living with sudden hearing loss). The speakers shared specialist insight and the latest research on hearing loss and balance disorders, a patient’s experience of the challenges in getting the right support through primary care.

The webinar attendees were canvassed for feedback after the event and more than 80% said it met their expectations extremely well or very well. One person commented: “It will improve the quality of my consultations with people who have hearing loss. I have attended many RCGP webinars and this webinar on hearing loss has been the best and the most important one. The topic of hearing loss is so prevalent that I feel that GP trainees and GPs need to have annual update on it so our attention remains sharp on this topic and supporting people with hearing loss during consultations can become second nature. Thank you for the excellent and very relevant webinar!”

Dr Maru commented: “The webinar was a huge success and as well as using it to share core evidence and answer questions from the audience, we presented the new toolkit and its fundamental aims. These include reducing health inequalities and improving accessibility, supporting innovation in tackling hearing loss, improving awareness of professional guidance among GPs and their teams and helping to evolve GP training.

“We know that patients can present hearing loss in various ways – a decrease in the ability to hear sounds may not be the main presenting complaint. Memory loss, sensitivity to loud noises, social withdrawal, changes to balance and experiences of depression and anxiety are just some of the signs that we regularly see. It’s therefore crucial that GPs can recognise these additional presentations of hearing loss and address them comprehensively in the assessment and management of patients with hearing difficulties. Early detection and intervention can significantly improve outcomes and quality of life for those with hearing loss, and we hope that the resources and training in our newly improved toolkit will contribute to this.”

You can access the new hearing loss toolkit on the RCGP website and access a recording of the webinar on YouTube.