Making audiology youth-friendly

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Confession time: until I was around 25, I didn’t have a clue how to read an audiogram. If you asked me as a child, how deaf I was, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell you. Ask me to retube my hearing aid, and I probably would have gone running to Mummy.

Why? Because nobody ever really explained it to me. I’ve blogged before about my unhappy experiences at the audiology clinic as a child. Audiology services fitted me up with a hearing aid as a child and then pretty much left me to it. Rarely was I asked for my opinion or views. Rarely did a trip to the clinic go without my audiologist trying to talk to me when he had just taken my hearing aid off. Worse of all, the hearing tests used to give me terrible tinnutis, and the audiologist had the nerve to tell me off when I incorrectly pressed the buzzer during the hearing test because my ears were beeping and ringing all over the place.

For these reasons, I’m really excited about the National Deaf Children’s Society Over to You project. It’s looking to improve deaf young people’s experiences of audiology services through a project in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Newham, my old hood in London. I think it’s a really important job and it’s great that audiologists in this area have stepped up to the challenge, to make their services youth-friendly and to work to empower deaf children and young people.

Luckily, I now have a great audiology clinic. What makes them special is that they take the time to explain things to me and to ask me questions and get my views. Best of all, they NEVER try and talk to me when I haven’t got my hearing aid on!

Watch this space for more info about the Over to You project. In the meantime, if you want to share your good/bad audiology experiences, drop a line below!


Still no answers from Government on audiology training

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I mentioned a while back that our requests for information from the Department of Health on cuts to audiology training have not been terribly successful, if the letter we received a few weeks back from the Department was anything to go by.

Sadly, things have not improved. Last week, we got replies to some parliamentary questions that Norman Lamb MP, Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary had raised on the National Deaf Children’s Society’s behalf. Norman was trying to tease out more information about the proposed new audiology training programme, which I fear is leading to cuts by the backdoor.

To give one example, Norman asked when the first new paediatric audiologists will graduate under the new audiology training programme. After all, the Government should not be cutting existing places unless new graduates are ready to roll out quickly, surely?

The answer? “Working with stakeholders, we are developing a range of education and training programmes which will have a focus on audiology… These will encompass the needs of both adult and paediatric services.”

I might take that as a “er… don’t know, guv”.

The answers to the other questions weren’t much better. Indeed, the only information of use they provided was on the number of audiology training places over the past three years.

It all makes for a very frustrating campaign where the Department seems determined to provide no reassurance or answers to anything. However, it’s not all bad news. With over 460 people now having contacted their MP about our Hear for the Future campaign, the Department has started to realise it can’t ignore these concerns forever. Civil servants at the Department have just agreed to come and meet with us. Hopefully, we’ll then finally get some answers.

In the meantime, your help in keeping the pressure on the Department is still needed. If you haven’t already, please contact your MP, using our special thingybob on NDCS’s website which makes it easy as pie to do this. I reckon if over 500 people do the action, the Government will be even more proactive in trying to address our concerns…

Department of Health ignore concerns on audiology services for deaf children

This month has not been a good one for my anger. The Government denying equality on exams to deaf students. Deaf students having to wait for their Disabled Students Allowance. UK Film Council deciding that access to the cinema for deaf people is not a priority. And the Department for Children, Schools and Families missing the memo about British Sign Language having equal status to other languages. I’m now lobbying NDCS to provide me with something in the office to keep me calm. Maybe a rabbit.

And, of course, the cuts to audiology training. I got a reminder why it’s so important NDCS supporters contact their MP when we received a letter from the Department of Health on our concerns that audiology training courses are being cut, when there are already shortfalls in highly trained paediatric audiologists.

It was a spectacularly unhelpful letter. It was clearly written by a civil servant who’s been burning the midnight oil reading the book “How to say absolutely nothing at all”. It doesn’t respond to any of the points or concerns raised in NDCS’s letter. It pretends that we’re living in a world where everything is just dandy, everything will be alright on the night and there’s nothing to worry about at all. Worse of all, it says that we can be reassured by the fact that local health bosses have announced their plans on audiology training early this year. I may be missing something but I’m unsure how anyone can be reassured by a local health boss in one area announcing a plan to slash by half the number of audiology training courses. It is immensely frustrating to take the time to write about serious concerns and get a reply which just ignores them. The Department of Health must have a little sandpit somewhere where officials can bury their heads.

Hence, the need to contact your MP to ask them to support our Hear for the Future campaign to stop the cuts to audiology services. Over 300 people have done so far, which is great, but it would be great to get this up even higher. The more people who speak out, the more Government Ministers will take note and ask hard questions of their civil servants. And when that happens, hopefully then we can reverse the cuts and make sure deaf children can be seen quickly by someone who can diagnose the deafness and fit the right hearing aids asap.

Here’s hoping my anger levels reside in March…

How you can help stop cuts to audiology training

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For the past month, the National Deaf Chidren’s Society (NDCS) has been looking into what’s going on with the Government’s plans to reform audiology training. What have we found out?

1) The cuts are definitely happening. We’ve seen a letter (though we weren’t meant to) from civil servants at the Department of Health saying that “in the current financial environment, this [Government plans] inevitably will mean some reductions in commissions”. We know that local health bosses in one strategic health authority is cutting the number of audiology training places by half. Others are telling existing students that they may not be able to finish the course.

2) The Department of Health consulted on changes to audiology training last year. The consultation closed in March 2009, but government Ministers still haven’t cleared a statement on a way forward nor explained how they’re taking into account views from the consultation. Yet the cuts are going ahead anyway…

3) Audiologists are up in arms. Nearly 2000 signed a petition (now closed) saying how unhappy they are about all this. That’s a lot of angry audiologists.

4) Even though the cuts are happening in England, feedback from professionals is that this is going to have knock-on effects for audiology services across the UK because many audiologists train in England.

5) Digging through audits from the newborn hearing screening programme, one of the most commonly cited problems is lack of audiology capacity. I read one report for an area in west London where 35 babies may been misdiagnosed by audiologists and “inappropriately discharged” because of there not being enough trained staff.

Crikey. With all this in mind, NDCS has decided to launch a campaign to stop the cuts. It’s called Hear for the Future (pun intended) and the aim is to ensure we don’t put audiology services for deaf children at risk. Deaf children need the best possible start in life to achieve their potential and be independent. They need more, not less audiologists, so they can be quickly assessed, fitted with hearing aids, and get the ongoing support they need. Personally, I would say that cutting the number of highly trained audiologists is, on balance, a pretty stupid thing to do.

So what is NDCS doing about it?

1) A letter has been sent to the Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham MP, to set out our concerns.

2) Letters have also been sent to strategic health authorities across England to get confirmation on their plans for audiology training and appeal to them to stop any cuts.

3) MPs are being briefed and NDCS hopes to get a few questions raised in Parliament on this issue.

And how you can help? Well, NDCS has set up a new campaign action where NDCS supporters can email their MP to ask them to support the Hear for the Future campaign. It’s dead easy – bang in your postcode, the website works out who your MP is and pulls up a template letter for you. If you’re happy, click on send, and Bob’s your uncle.

The more people who take part, the more the Government will take notice and stop the cuts before it’s too late. So please do get involved. And please do also spread the word to everyone you know.

PS Apologies if you had been unable to click on the link to the action earlier – a misplaced comma and the whole thing went haywire. It should now be working.