Sensory impairment

Overview and key messages

  • Sensory impairment can be a significant life limiting condition and its incidence increases with age. This means the challenges associated with the condition are likely to grow over coming decades
  • The condition includes sight loss, hearing loss, and dual sensory loss (deafblind)
  • Accelerating factors in relation to sight loss include diabetes and obesity
  • People with sensory impairment have a range of care and support needs. Early identification is vital, as is prevention, support to reduce loneliness, isolation and promote mental health and well-being and measures to support access to employment
  • Effective care and support is likely to reduce other risks associated with age and frailty, such as falls
  • A range of services are available across West Wales. These provide a foundation for improvement in the future
  • Improvements need to focus on further development of generic and specialist services and improving access to other services for people with a sensory impairment. This will require collaborative approaches to ensure consistency and that common challenges are addressed

Demographics and trends

  • Approximately 0.06% of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 will have a severe visual impairment
  • Moderate or severe visual impairment will be experienced by around 5.6% of older adults aged between 65 and 74
  • Around 12% of people aged 75 and over will have a moderate or severe visual impairment
  • Approximately 6.4% of people aged 75 and over will have registerable eye conditions

Current and future care and support needs

The positive impact of prevention, early identification, practical and emotional support and accessibility of services is common across all categories of sensory loss. Whilst many people with sensory impairment will not need direct care and support for their condition, they are more likely to suffer with depression, anxiety, loneliness, loss of independence and isolation, along with poorer employment prospects and the financial impact that can bring, than the general population. Appropriate low level support can play a key role in mitigating the effect of these and in improving the general well-being of people with these conditions

“I was dreading going into hospital due to being virtually blind and I feared I would not be helped, however I could not have asked for any more help. They guided me, gave excellent verbal instruction and even told me when my meal had been placed in front of me, which has never happened to me before”

Current care and support provision

A range of care and support is available for people with sensory loss in West Wales. Whilst the precise nature of provision varies in each county area, generally these include:
  • Rehabilitation Officers for the Visually Impaired (ROVIs) located within social care who provide rehabilitation service for people of all ages who are certified blind, partially sighted or are registerable under these categories of reduced vision. A ROVI’s role is to help build confidence, provide emotional support, regain lost life-skills and teach new skills, maintain and promote independence and choice and assess people’s need for specialist equipment and adaptations. The ROVIs work closely with partner agencies such as the Low Vision Service Wales (LVSW) and the third sector to ensure clients’ needs can be fully recognised, supported and progressed. They also build links with other services to ensure the needs of visually impaired people are taken into account. A recent example is engagement with Aberystwyth University in Ceredigion which resulted in the opening of an art gallery with audible provision. Finally, ROVIs work within communities to provide visual awareness training and look to set up local support groups for people with vision impairment
  • Low Vision service Wales (LVSW)-accredited practitioners located within primary care, who provide advice and guidance to those who have had diagnosis of a specific eye condition. People can access LVSW practitioners from the community or when in secondary care. Practitioners currently operate in 32 community optometric (optician) practices and a further 11 offering a domiciliary service
  • Eye Care Liaison Officers (ECLOs) operating from opthalmology departments across the region and provide support and advice to patients with vision impairment; this service is limited and is provided by RNIB in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire and by Sight Cymru in Ceredigion
  • Specialist equipment available to facilitate daily activities, such as mobility and communication equipment (including Braille and hearing loop systems) and lipreading services (in Carmarthenshire), where appropriate
  • General awareness raising and engagement activities for example with 50 + forums which takes place across the region and interaction with other services such as education, highways and the third sector (in Pembrokeshire) to improve provision for people with sensory loss. Local engagement activities include work conducted through the West Wales Audiology Group, facilitated by Hywel Dda University Health Board and bringing together professionals and service users to consider and address relevant service issues and the publication in Pembrokeshire of a monthly audio magazine for the visually impaired which encourages feedback from citizens on the type and level of services they would like to receive. Wales Council for the Blind convenes a quarterly ‘Your Voice Shared Vision’ meeting across Mid and West Wales (including Powys) to discuss service-related issues and obtain the views of users and carers
  • Support for Carers of people with sensory loss including information, signposting to appropriate support and advice on carers’ assessments
  • Partnership working between the statutory and third sectors at national level with organisations such as British Wireless for the Blind, Blind Veterans UK, RNIB, SENSE Cymru, Deaf Children’s Society, Welsh Interpreting and Translation Services, Wales Council for Deaf People and locally with groups such as Pembrokeshire Association of Voluntary Services and the Llanelli Blind Society, to deliver a range of support services. These include social interaction and activities and specific facilities such as wireless for the blind and talking newspapers. Regional initiatives to improve provision for people with sensory loss include the Sensory Friendly Awareness Awards programme, the first to be piloted and rolled out in Wales and led by Hywel Dda University Health Board. The programme aims to raise awareness and understanding among health care providers of the needs of people with sensory loss and their carers and to respond to these appropriately. Its initial focus is on secondary wards.

Gaps and Areas for Improvement

  • Raising the profile and public understanding of sensory impairment and the NHS Low Vision Service and embedding good practices around identification, information, consultation and integration of other related services
  • Developing appropriate access to a range of information, advice and assistance that addresses the needs and barriers to accessing services, which can prevent those with sensory impairment accessing vital healthcare
  • Developing specific consistent support and services such as interpretation, translation, lip reading, talking therapies, rehabilitation and clinics for ophthalmology and glaucoma to ensure they are available and accessible across the region
  • Increasing use of direct payments to ensure people can exercise genuine choice and control over the care and support they receive
  • Developing community-based, user-led, co-produced services that prevent isolation; promote community connectivity, well-being and resilience and support people to remain independent for longer in their own communities
  • Addressing the lack of transport links within very rural regions, which add to the difficulty of accessible service delivery