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The Minister for Equality and Health has taken the opportunity during Deaf Awareness Week to highlight our collective, social responsibility of including people that are deaf or hard of hearing in our daily lives.

Hearing loss and deafness is defined as a hidden disability. Hearing Loss will commonly occur over time and individuals will often not realise that they are having difficulty hearing. Family members or friends can be the first to notice the hearing loss and address it.

The most common cause for hearing loss is age. Over 40% of people over 50 years old and 70% of those over 70 years will have some degree of hearing deficit. Noise induced hearing loss is the second most common cause of acquired hearing loss and can be prevented. The consequences of noise exposure on hearing are dependent on its volume and duration.

Government has said it is ensuring that more services are available to those who find it difficult to communicate verbally than ever before. Traditionally, departments could be contacted via letter or e-mail whilst e-government services are now also offered for many departments.

'We have invested in the provision of Hearing Induction Loop Systems and these are actively used in a number of public departments and sites. Other measures have been taken to ensure that services are provided when an individual needs to attend in person.'

'By way of example, the Primary Care Centre has for a long time offered appointment services via Smart Messaging Service (SMS) to those people that are deaf or hard of hearing and cannot telephone in to ask for an appointment. At the clinics, pagers that vibrate are now also being used to communicate that the GP or medical practitioner is available to see the patient. This system is being extended throughout other departments.

HM Government of Gibraltar will always aim to ensure that a qualified BSL interpreter is at hand when it is necessary for an individual who requires this in order to interact with public services in person. BSL interpreters usually need to be flown in from the UK so it is important that these meetings are arranged well in advance. In more urgent cases, like, for example, at a medical clinic, a video link BSL service can also be made available.'

'Most significantly, the GHA is in the process of transforming the delivery of its clinical services for those who are deaf and hard of hearing. A new major GHA transformation project that is currently in process will provide a significant upgrade; major refurbishment works at St Bernard’s Hospital will house a brand new Audiology Department. The new site will increase the scope of the GHA’s audiology service. The aim is to localise all but the more specialised hearing testing in Gibraltar. The new service will be able to provide hearing testing in Gibraltar for the vast majority of children under the age of five, many of whom have had to go to the UK in the past. Objective hearing aid testing, which should improve hearing aid fitting outcomes, will also be provided.'

Anyone experiencing problems with their hearing is encouraged to see their GP so that they can be referred to a specialist. Early recognition and screening are of paramount importance. Many cases of hearing loss can be prevented or managed successfully if diagnosed early.

The Minister for Justice, Equality, Health and Care, the Hon. Samantha Sacramento, MP, said: “It is important to highlight that there may be more people affected by a hearing impairment than we initially realise. It is equally vital to think about how deaf people may feel isolated on occasions when we do not take the necessary steps to ensure they are involved in the conversation. Hearing impairments not only affect the person in question, but also those trying to communicate with them and this includes their friends, family and co-workers.

“The majority of cases of hearing loss develop with age, or when hearing is directly affected after being exposed to loud noises over a period of time and this is something that can definitely be prevented. It is therefore very important to raise awareness to prevent hearing loss.

“We must also not forget that service providers can look at how they offer their services and see if these can be made available in an alternative way that allows users, who may be deaf or hard of hearing, to be able to access their services like everyone else.