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Independents' Day

'Ageist' GPs failing to refer deaf-blind elderly patients

By Nigel Praities

GPs should identify all elderly patients with hearing and sight impairment and refer them on for specialist help, the Government's heart tsar has advised.

The call came after figures - released by the charity Sense – revealed nearly one in 20 patients over 75 have combined sight and hearing difficulties.

The charity estimates this leads to a £365 million cost to the NHS, as deaf-blind elderly people are more likely to be sedentary, have falls and have diseases such as hypertension, depression or heart disease.

Hear tsar Professor Roger Boyle said he was surprised at the figures and was discussing how to build the health needs of this group into DH policy.

‘There is a large proportion of population and this is a big issue. All professional groups deny that they have people in their care with these disabilities, but they have not even considered or looked at it,' he said.

Professor Boyle went on to say GPs should ensure deaf-blind elderly people were referred to a sensory specialist and were treated adequately for all risk factors.

‘In some parts of primary care there is still a tendency to be ageist,' he said.

Sense have produced a checklist of factors GPs can use to identify deaf-blind patients. This will be sent to all practices in the country shortly.

Dr Ann-Marie Soares, a GP in Braintree, Essex, and stroke lead at NHS Mid-Essex, said many GPs had no idea where to refer patients when they had identified them.

‘There is a lack of awareness of the help that you can get. I have only just found out about my sensory team and they have helped two of my deaf-blind patients,' she said.

The development also follows an analysis of data from the GP patient survey by the charity Sign Health that showed higher levels of dissatisfaction among younger deaf people. Nearly 22% of deaf respondents aged 18 to 34 said they were dissatisfied in 2008, compared with 17% for hearing people.

More than one patient in 20 aged over 75 has combined sight and hearing difficulties

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