Ayrshire to pioneer new joint-sensory loss services

Press release

A pioneering plan to revolutionise access to services for people with sight and hearing loss in Ayrshire is being launched today, in part to meet a huge expected upsurge in the numbers living with sensory impairment.

Sensory loss can be present from birth, but for most people it occurs later in life, and can range from a relatively low level disability to total blindness or deafness.

Today’s moves, the first of their kind in Scotland, have seen all three local authorities join forces with the health board and voluntary organisations to offer a more integrated, easy-to-access service.

Eddie Fraser, director of health and social care for East Ayrshire Council has led this work on behalf of the councils and health board. He said: “We put these proposals out to public consultation in March and got a very positive response.

“As well as integrating services for people with sight and hearing loss, we want to include a stronger focus on prevention and enablement, and community-based provision.

“A pan-Ayrshire and Arran approach to sensory impairment will allow for a more standardised and consistent approach to service delivery.  It will enable one point of access with a clear and effective referral pathway into the service, providing a more responsive approach which will meet individual needs."

The new Ayrshire Plan has been given impetus by an unprecedented increase in the number of over-65s projected to be living in Ayrshire and Arran by 2035, up from 69,200 to 106,800 (19 per cent to 30 per cent of the total population!). The numbers aged over 80 are anticipated to rise from 17,598 to 36,070.

The incidence of sensory loss increases the older the population gets. There are currently around 62,200 people across Ayrshire and Arran with hearing loss, projected to increase by 50 per cent in the next 20 years to around 93,300.  Meanwhile, the numbers with significant sight loss are set to double from 12,440 now to around 24,880 if no preventative measures are taken. 

Eddie Fraser added: “We know the number of people with a sensory impairment is set to increase profoundly across Ayrshire and Arran. This will require that we adapt services to meet these changes.  In addition to the huge surge in the older population, life-expectancy rates are also extending.  With this comes the growth in the number of people who will experience visual or hearing loss, and even dual sensory loss.  It will also see those children with sensory impairment and additional needs living much longer into adulthood, and those with learning disabilities and their associated higher risk of developing sensory loss, living longer, too.

“So we must respond better to the needs of vulnerable people and those that are isolated socially or geographically and who have real difficulty in accessing services.”

A key feature of the new plan is the increased involvement of third sector providers, although ultimate responsibility for care will remain with the statutory sector.

Delia Henry, director Action on Hearing Loss Scotland, said: “We welcome the new integrated approach being taken across Ayrshire and Arran. It is crucial people with hearing loss have the necessary support at every stage of their lives. One of the major concerns for people with hearing loss is the sense of isolation that they face. We want to make sure they know about the support available to them and how they can best get access to it."

John Legg, director of RNIB Scotland, said: “With this plan, Ayrshire and Arran could set the blueprint for how sensory services are delivered in Scotland. New treatments and new technology hold out new hope for people who are blind and partially sighted. We welcome the commitment in this plan to ensure they are no longer regarded as passive recipients of care but active participants in shaping provision to their individual needs. Hopefully, this will be the future for healthcare, generally, in Scotland.”

Notes for News Editors

  1. In Scotland 16.8 percent of the current population are aged 65 years and over. In East Ayrshire the figure is 17.35 percent (21,300 people), in North Ayrshire 18.74 percent (25,900) and in South Ayrshire 21.5 percent (24,300).
  2. Whilst the overall population across Ayrshire and Arran is projected to decline (to just under 356,000 in 2035), this is not evenly distributed across age groups. The 16 years and under population group will decline by 7.8 percent, 16 to 29 years old group by 13.1 percent, 30 to 49 years old group by 14.8 percent and 50 to 64 years old group by 23 percent. Conversely, the 65 to 79 years old population group will increase by 33 percent and the 80 years and over group by 105 percent, accounting for 10 percent of the total population.