(Last updated Jun 5, 2018)

An Appeal to NHS: Don’t Scrap Free Hearing Aids!

The following is a guest post, submitted by Action on Hearing Loss on behalf of Linda Parton.

On June 3rd, the publicly funded healthcare system in the UK, (National Health Services AKA NHS), announced proposals to withdraw the provision of NHS-funded hearing aids for adults with mild to moderate age-related hearing loss. As it currently stands, those with mild to moderate age-related hearing loss are provided hearing aids free of charge, but under new proposals, those classed as ‘hard-of-hearing’ would have to wait until they had ‘severe’ hearing loss to qualify for the devices. If you’d like to voice your opinion on this issue, please take this survey, and sign this petition.

I knew I had some hearing loss
It started in 2006 when I had Dengue fever whilst working in Cambodia. Temporary hearing loss is often an effect of this tropical disease but mine did not come back. It wasn’t so bad though, I could manage OK. Then early in 2013 I picked up a virus on the plane back from Papua New Guinea. My hearing loss worsened and it felt as if my ears were stuffed with cotton wool. The doctor assured me it was the after effects of the virus and it would get better in a few weeks. It didn’t.

Picture of a Linda Parton

Linda Parton

In June 2013 I went to Rwanda for three months’ work. I loved the work, the people and the place but my hearing loss made things very difficult. Some people in the office spoke very quietly and I constantly had to ask them to speak up. That’s OK in the office but impossible in a large meeting where a high ranking government official is speaking quietly and with a strong accent. Talking to people over lunch and at parties was a nightmare – and it was all part of the job!

I decided I either had to do something or give up the short-term contract work which I had been doing since my retirement. Back to the doctor’s I went. Eventually and by a circuitous route I got an appointment with an audiologist. I was issued with hearing aids at my first appointment.

I hadn’t realised how little I could hear.
It felt like a miracle. That noise I could hear was my coat rustling. Had it always done that? The birdsong was a wonderful cacophony. I had to tell my husband he could stop speaking so loudly. I couldn’t believe how loud the world was – it was wonderful.

Then when I heard about the possible plans to stop issuing hearing aids to adults with age related hearing loss I began to think more seriously about how I had benefitted in just a few months.

I am able to continue working and will soon be off to Malawi, on a voluntary basis, to help a charity working with children with Cerebral Palsy in Africa. I feel confident now that I will be able to meet with donors, high ranking officials and people at all levels in the community. Didn’t I pick up somewhere that the government wants us all to keep working longer? Maybe some of us will need help to do that.

I feel safer. I walk around a lot and can now hear traffic, bicycles and bicycle bells and footfall. I am much more aware of what is going on around me.

I no longer feel stupid at times. If you don’t hear what someone has said – or you mishear and respond to what you think you have heard – there is an assumption that you are not very bright. It’s sometimes easier to go back into your shell.

I am much less socially isolated. I can take part in family banter. I feel comfortable going out in a group. I am able to join committee and other meetings without strain. I feel much more connected to the world.

My tinnitus has not completely gone but is much less intrusive. Other sounds have taken over.

I am horrified that other people may not benefit as I have done – and that I may have to do without hearing aids in the future when mine come to the end of their useful life. I cannot afford the hundreds of pounds (or more often thousands) needed to buy private hearing aids. Anyway, how do I know that the person whose job it is to sell hearing aids is giving me the right advice? People may compare it with buying spectacles – but it is much easier to say if you eyesight has been corrected than if your hearing is at the optimum.

Prioritisation is the word being bandied around. Who has decided the criteria? To be brutally honest I would rather have a good quality of life now than have my life extended to a stage where I can no longer cope and have no quality of life at all. I am currently supporting two relatives in their 90s who need help to complete the simplest tasks. I do not want to reach that stage. I don’t want very expensive treatments to keep me alive for a few more months if I ever get terminal cancer or another major disease.

I have recently been offered lifelong statins for my slightly raised cholesterol. I don’t want them. I can make lifestyle changes as an alternative. I have arthritic knees. Simple exercises and over the counter painkillers have made a huge difference. I can do something about my cholesterol level and my arthritic knees. I can’t do anything about my hearing. This is where I need help from the NHS.

I still listen in wonder at the world every morning when I put in my hearing aids. It’s one of (if not ‘the’) best intervention I have had from the NHS in 64 years. I hope they think again because I am devastated to think that others may not benefit as I have.

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