Tinnitus, often described as ‘ringing in the ears’, is the perception of sound in the head or ears when no external sound is present. Tinnitus is generally correlated with hearing loss, but the two can exist separately. It can be a constant sound or noise, from which the individual gets no relief, except when asleep, or can occur intermittently for several minutes to hours at a time, before stopping until the next episode.
Research carried out in 2010 (What’s That Noise?) revealed gaps in the provision of services for people with tinnitus in Northern Ireland and a lack of information for both professionals and patients on what additional support exists.
Negative messages at diagnosis and delays in receiving support can lead to increased anxiety and / or depression for the person with tinnitus. Many people are greatly distressed by the effects of tinnitus and can develop mental health problems as a result.
Action on Hearing Loss, working with a group of experts from across health and social care services and service users, designed a Tinnitus Strategy for Northern Ireland outlining a new patient pathway, and recommending that people are supported within their local area by appropriately trained professionals and joined up services.
Successful lobbying has led to the Health and Social Care Board establishing a multiagency Tinnitus Strategy Group to take forward the recommendations. While there has been some progress in the provision of information to patients and GPs, a lack of Government funding has prevented the Strategy being implemented in full.
In particular, for people with severe and chronic tinnitus, which has had a serious impact on their mental health and their ability to cope with daily life, there is no service in Northern Ireland with the necessary expertise to turn to.
We are calling for:
- Health and Social Care Trusts to train and resource a specialist tinnitus support role within social care and audiology / ENT
- Each Health and Social Care Trust to provide a specialist and joined up tinnitus service.
- Each Health and Social Care Trust to create a referral pathway from GPs to their tinnitus service
- Urgent Government investment in a service to meet the specific needs of people with severe tinnitus and related mental health problems