Tuesday 29 July 2014

The end of NHS hearing aids?

This morning, as I was trying to stop a snoring woman on the bus from dribbling on my shoulder, I saw a tweet from @ActionOnHearing saying:

Help us keep hearing aids free on the NHS by joining our online protest!

and I was immediately filled with horror that such a service might be cut. First I responded, tweeting:

if hearing aids weren't free I wouldn't be
wearing them right now. It's an amazing privilege

Then I started to research the story more. And, with the help of Action On Hearing Loss, here's what I found out: 
  • The cuts are proposed for North Staffordshire by the North Staffordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG). 
  • They would affect adults who are considered to have a mild to moderate age-related hearing loss – known as presbyacusis.
  • NHS hearing tests will still be free for these people.
  • People who already have hearing aids will not have them taken away.
  • If a person's hearing loss deteriorates further, they will become eligible for hearing aids.
  • The savings will be around £1.2 million.
I do not have an age-related hearing loss. I have a severe to profound hearing loss. I do not live in North Staffordshire. This does not affect me.

And yet, it does.

Because hearing loss – whether mild, moderate or severe – can change people's lives forever. Especially if they've spent most of their adult lives being able to hear.

A couple of years ago, I wrote quite a few blogs about my Ma. She was losing her hearing (in part, age related) and struggling enormously to come to terms with it. But it wasn't just that. She was struggling to function in a world that suddenly seemed unfamiliar.

She was given hearing aids on the NHS and I watched her go through the same process of frustration and hatred for them that my 10-year-old self had gone through. You see, not all hearing aids help all people.

According to an Action On Hearing Aid fact sheet, private hearing aids cost between £300 and £3,000. 

As a deaf person I am on my seventh pair of hearing aids. In the 20 years that I have had hearings aids, these are the only pair that have helped me. That I have worn. The rest have lived in drawers, coat pockets and handbags and have eventually been returned to my audiologist, except for one pair, which may have ended up down the loo. 

*whistles innocently

So if people like my Ma are asked to stump up the cash to buy their hearing aids, how do they know that the pair they are spending up to £3,000 on will actually help? Is there a try- before-you-buy service? Is there a satisfaction guarantee? 

I understand that the NHS cannot fund the entire country's healthcare needs. I understand that postcode lotteries cannot be prevented and that sometimes the people in charge of the money have to say, 'You know what? Your needs are not as important as that person's needs.' But if you are the person they are saying that to, and you're isolated by hearing loss, it will probably feel very unfair.

And I don't know what the answer is.

What I do know is that, if the cuts do happen, there's a good chance that people with age-related hearing losses are going to stay that way. In fact. the website Patient.co.uk goes as far as to say:

'Untreated presbyacusis leads to social isolation, and depression, and
may cause or worsen cognitive impairment and dementia.'

And you have to wonder about the financial implications of that...

As a deaf person I feel incredibly isolated sometimes. I feel incredibly stupid sometimes too, when I mishear, mispronounce or misunderstand.

My hearing aids help prevent more of that than I probably realise.

I also feel incredibly lucky to be sat here wearing my Phonak Nathos hearing aids with Sound Recover. The hearing aids that have given me back sounds like phone ring tones, cats meowing, London Aunt's doorbell and the very smallest hint of office chitchat. They are absolutely the best hearing aids I could have. Or at least they were when I got them nearly two years ago. And I love them.

Maybe there are other solutions. Perhaps, if cuts are really unavoidable, NHS hearing aids for age-related hearing loss could be leased for a small (manageable and interest-free) monthly payment. Perhaps they could be like a mobile phone contract. And actually, hearing aids are not the only thing that helps age-related hearing loss. But is there is funding to explore the other options listed in this article on Patient.co.uk?
But my fear is, what if the cuts don't stop there? What is the future of free hearing aids?

If I had to stump up £3,000 for my hearing aids, would I bother? Or would I make do?

Would I go back to no cats, no ringtones, no doorbells and not a hint of office chitchat?

And the sad thing is, I probably would.

I will always try and support any campaigns about free hearing aids. But I also want to know, if free hearing aids are saved, what will be cut instead? Who will lose out to make the neccessary savings?

When I find out, I'll let you know.


Thursday 3 July 2014

Deaf Girly and Visually Impaired Lady

Yesterday, as I was rushing home to do my other job – au pairing – thinking about the sausage and mash I was cooking for tea and the fact I needed to buy potatoes, I found myself navigating the most insane roadworks outside the tube station. The pavement had been completely dug up and the usual open-plan exit that led to the main road was a thin windy pathway crammed with rush-hour travellers.

As I navigated the chaos, someone caught my eye. A lady – probably in her seventies – with a white stick, struggling to work out the lay of the land. She was walking forward, the way the pavement used to go but kept encountering the barriers that the workmen had put up. People walked on by, oblivious.

I stopped and assessed the situation, double checked she was visually impaired and then walked up to her and said 'Are you trying to get somewhere?'

'Of course I'm trying to get somewhere,' she replied, a bit frostily, or maybe stressed out from what was going on.

And so I introduced myself and explained to her that the road had been dug up and the pavement configuration changed and asked if she'd like me to walk with her a while.

She graciously accepted.

So I offered her my arm. And she took my hand and we walked together. Me navigating the crowds. Trying to protect her from the people walking into her, oblivious of her white stick. Oblivious of the situation.

I got her across the road. She continued to hold my hand. I asked where she was going. It was about 10 minutes walk from the station. I asked if she wanted company as I was walking that way anyway (I wasn't – I was meant to be in Tesco, buying potatoes) and she seemed thrilled at the idea.

So we walked and talked. She told me she was a dancer. That she'd travelled the world dancing. As people continued to bash into us, she mentioned that this was probably better than Oxford Street right now and how she hadn't seen it in years. So I used my photographic memory to describe to her the new development down the Marble Arch end. The glass buildings, the new shops. How smart it all looks. She seemed over the moon. She spoke about the glass buildings in Berlin and said how amazing they were.

I asked her if she had danced in Berlin. She had.

Amazing, huh?

I'm so glad that yesterday when I saw her outside the tube, I had the confidence to ask her if she was OK. Even if I did ask it in a stupid way. I am pleased that I managed to drag all my visually impaired awareness out of the depths of my brain to try and do the right thing. And I hope I made a difference.

Last week, someone did something very similar for me.

I was sat in my local hospital's outpatients department waiting for a check-up on my Crohn's. It was hot. It was busy. And the nurses were charging around stressed. Twenty minutes after my appointment should have been, and five minutes after I wondered if a nurse had mispronounced my name, I stopped a nurse and told her that I was deaf and wouldn't hear my name called if heard.

She rolled her eyes at me and said 'I will come and get you if you are called' and then stalked off.

'But you didn't ask my name…' I said, to her back, feeling tears of frustration welling up.

And then I felt a hand on my arm. It was the lady beside me. 'Tell me your name and I will tell you,' she said, slowly and clearly but in the most unpatronising way.

And that's what she did. And I could have hugged her.

She took all the stress of waiting in that hot, crowded waiting room around.

She stopped me feeling so alone.

It's amazing how one person can make such a difference when you're struggling. Can make everything seem so much better.

What the visually impaired lady I met yesterday doesn't know is, that's exactly what she did for me, too.

DeafGirly: How I feel about being deaf at work

It's been a whole year since I posted a blog on here. Life's been happening. And I guess I am no longer 'deaf in the city and ha...