I am 20 years old, a University student studying for my degree in Social Work. I am severely hard of hearing and have worn two hearing aids since birth. I am not blind to the harsh cuts the NHS has faced over the past few years and I understand we have been in a financial crisis under the previous coalition government. However, I have never in the past 20 years seen these cuts affect the service that I receive from the NHS, especially in audiology, the department I receive my hearing aid support from.
Not until now. I want to tell you about my experience a couple of weeks ago.
A few weeks ago, I made an appointment at my local audiology department at the hospital in my local town. This appointment was to have new moulds fitted for my ‘in the ear’ hearing aids. I went into the consultation room and I explained that I needed some new hearing aid moulds due to the current mould rubbing me severely. The moulds had also become discoloured and not very presentable. No hearing aid user likes to wear yellow looking moulds that look mouldy and unpleasant. It is natural that the moulds discolour and I usually stick it out long enough in till they are that bad they need changing.
The audiologist looked at the fit of the aids in my ear and the hearing aid itself. He stated that there was no need for new ones to be made as they fitted well and I had already had new moulds made a year ago. I explained that 6 months to a year seemed usual to come in for new hearing aid moulds. The audiologist stated that now I am in adult services replacements are every 2 years and not as regularly as they would have been in children’s services.
I did not know how else to respond to this but to sit in silence. I had never been told that was now eligible for new moulds every 2 years and not yearly. I was still confused as I had explained to the audiologist that the moulds had discoloured and rubbed me, regardless of how long ago I had new ones. The audiologist stated that on this one occasion he would fit new moulds.
After that the audiologist asked ‘do you know how much hearing aids moulds cost?’ to which I replied I didn’t know. The audiologist stated ‘they cost between £15 to £20 for the moulds and this is very expensive, the money comes out of adult services budgets’. What was going through my head was ‘are you trying to make me feel bad for coming to my appointment and asking for new moulds because my current ones have left me in discomfort’? I was made to feel like a drain on NHS resources and that I was using money unnecessarily, however this was not the case.
Following the moulds being made, the audiologist explained that I would be telephoned to come in and have an appointment to have them fitted. However, as I have fitted my own hearing aids for the past few years I asked if the moulds could be posted instead. The audiologist stated that we do not post them as ‘that costs money and it isn’t cheap for postage’. I pointed out that for years now I have had them sent in the post, but agreed I could come in and have them fitted if they weren’t going to post them. The audiologist stated we only post them to our university students, as I was a student living away, the audiologist agreed to post them on this occasion.
Again I felt like I had to justify myself to the audiologist.
It was also clear that my records weren’t read and my hearing loss understood, because when the moulds were being made and left to harden in my ear, the audiologist started to talk to me. For people who don’t know, to make new moulds the hearing aids have to be taken out for a few minutes. You wait patiently until the solution is hardened and ready to be taken out of the ear and you put your hearing aids back in.
As a professional in audiology I would expect the audiologist to have read my records and check my level of hearing before he tried to communicate with me verbally when I did not have my hearing aids in. I had no idea what was said but nodded and pretended I could hear him – I felt devalued.
I was born with a hearing loss due to sensorineural nerve damage but I have never experienced this feeling in the 20 years I have been using the services. I was not advocated and was alone on this visit. The reason I wanted to write my story was because I want people to understand that you should never feel like you are a burden, scrounger or drain on the NHS.
I will be qualified as a social worker in 12 months and will be paying taxes in which will help fund care that I need. I feel that no one who is hard of hearing or deaf should be spoken to about budgets, cuts and costs on their appointments. I walked away from that appointment wanting to use private services. I want to be proud of using NHS services – I have received extraordinary support for many years from some great audiologists and in writing this I do not want to undermine their amazing work and efforts.
Finally, I completely understand why postage services are being cut and why moulds need to be changed every 2 years and not more regularly. However, it is important that every deaf and hard of hearing patient has these changes explained. I walked out of that appointment feeling undeserving of new hearing aid moulds, I felt that I was using NHS budgets unnecessarily and I did not feel proud to be deaf.
It wasn’t in till I got home and explained this to my mother and older sister, who were appalled at my experience, that it made me want to make other people feel empowered. I want all audiologists to be approachable and provide advice in a manner of professionalism, to understand their patients hearing and to never let them walk out feeling devalued.
Please take a message from this…be proud of who you are and your disability, tell your story, because just writing this made me feel amazing to have spoken out.