SHOCK new figures reveal almost one in six people in Hartlepool suffer from hearing problems.
Councillors say the number of people suffering hearing loss is such an issue that they have backed a new strategy aimed at providing more support to the 14,700 people affected.
Hartlepool Borough Council officers say there are a number of services already in place, including an advocacy service, but more can be done.
Around four thousand people with hearing problems, ranging from minor loss to deafness, are below the age of 61, with almost 11,000 being over the age of 61.
The council is among the first in the country to produce a policy and work on the draft Hartlepool Hearing Loss Strategy has started.
The aim is to create a “visible focal point” for people with hearing loss to meet and get information and support, to review the commissioning of British Sign Language interpreter services and to fully engage deaf people in changes to services that affect them.
A report outlining the stark figures was produced by Tracey Sharp, deputy regional director of public health for the North-East.
It said that work is already taking place to look at an appropriate site for a venue and a meeting has been planned with members of the deaf community, council officers and the NHS.
According to current data, there are 970 hard of hearing and 76 deaf people registered with the council.
But the report said the figures were just the “tip of the iceberg”.
It added: “Using national prevalence studies, we know that hearing loss affects approximately 16 per cent, or 1 in 6 of the population.”
Councillors were told that hearing loss is “very hidden” and that early intervention is key.
Labour councillor Jonathan Brash said: “Sixteen per cent is a staggering amount.”
Members discussed whether it was a natural part of aging or whether the hearing problems suffered were preventable.
Labour councillor Pamela Hargreaves said it was important to maximise existing services, while Labour councillor Ged Hall said some people working in clubs and bars cannot always get away from loud music.
Independent councillor Hilary Thompson said: “It is important to bring to the fore that British Sign Language is the first language of the deaf, not English.
“It needs to be more prominent with more people learning it.”
Meanwhile, Labour councillor Robbie Payne said if a new information centre was opened there should be a launch event.
Calls have also been made for British Sign Language to be taught in schools.
Speaking after the meeting, Labour councillor Marjorie James, who is chairman of the scrutiny co-ordinating committee, said: “The statistics show that most of us know someone either in our own families or within a reasonably small circle of friends who has or will have a hearing loss, we may even have a hearing loss ourselves.
“It seems to me that the time has come for British Sign Language to be taught in schools and in my opinion the council should be working with schools to bring this about.”