Audiology memories

All of NDCS’s work on the Hear for the Future audiology campaign got me reminiscing over the weekend about my own experiences of audiology as a deaf child. Other people go to parties or relax over the weekend, but it was raining a lot so I thought I would reminisce instead.

One of my earliest memories involved a trip to audiology when my Mum went to town to visit the hospital for some hearing aid batteries. The audiology clinic didn’t have any, apparently, because of cuts. To this day, I can remember my Mum declaring loudly that she would never vote Thatcher again. Looking back, this was probably my first “political experience” as a child.

Until I was 11, I wore a very bulky round-the-body hearing aid, the kind you now only see in museums. My sister had had a behind-the-ear hearing aid about three years before me and I was intensely jealous that I had to wait. I think I may have tried to steal her hearing aid at one point.

One of the things now that strikes me most is that nobody in the audiology clinic ever talked to me directly or listened to me. For example, I hated wearing a hearing aid in my left ear when I was a child because I couldn’t hear anything. Instead, I would just ‘feel’ a wall of sound that was hurt my head. Despite my complaints, I was still made to wear it, and nobody spent any time looking into why I always just switched it off. In addition, nobody ever explained anything to me. It wasn’t until I was around 25 that an audiologist finally explained to me what an audiogram meant or how to look after my hearing aid. I knew very little about my own deafness.

Finally, I was often stunned by how deaf unaware some audiologists would be. All to often, talking to me with his back to me and without my hearing aid on, and then just shouting at me.

Sadly, I’m not a child anymore and not allowed to go into paediatric audiology clinics without getting into a lot of trouble. But the impression I get is that things are now much better, if not perfect. Waiting times are down, according to Government figures, and new modern digital hearing aids are freely available. Certainly, I’m very happy with my adult audiology clinic, which is full of audiologists who take the time to talk to me and make sure I leave with what I need.

All of this makes me feel anxious that the cuts to audiology training courses threaten to take us back to the days when my Mum, not the most political of people, turn into a raging hardcore activist, plotting to bring the downfall of the Government. I’ll be getting my dear Mum to contact her MP to avoid it getting to that stage this time around. If you want to do the same, the NDCS website allows you to pop an email to your MP in 3 minutes. It even works out who your MP is.

What are your experiences of audiology? Are you equally worried by possible cuts and shortages in number of trained staff? Have your say and leave a comment below. Be good to hear your memories too.


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.