I recently made the transition from the National Health Service (NHS) to the private sector after much consideration over the last two years largely due to cost and whether it would actually improve anything over what I had with the NHS. The NHS has been a lifeline to many millions of people like myself by providing services such as hearing aids for free. Without the NHS, I would not be alive today nor be able to hear.
The History of Me
But despite the positives, I felt it was lacking in resources and support especially for young adults like myself as we make the transition from paediatric audiology into adult audiology. My hearing has been cared for by the NHS since I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss in 1985, almost one year after my premature birth in 1984. After many years of enjoyable visits in paediatric audiology, I became of age and I was transferred over to the adult audiology department at the age of twenty-three, albeit rather reluctantly.
Sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment and observing my surroundings, I realised that I was surrounded by stereotypically elderly patients also waiting for their appointments. It seemed more clinical and the personal touch was no longer there. The audiologists were struggling to see patients within their scheduled appointment times and were seemingly pressurised by the constraints of their roles combined with a lack of resources.
However, I persevered as I was still under the care of a consultant in audiological medicine following my sudden hearing drop two years earlier at the age of twenty-one and they were monitoring my hearing closely. I now had severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss and my high frequency range had decreased substantially into the profound range. Further investigations determined my sudden loss as idiopathic.
StreamerPro: A whole new world
Hearing aids in the NHS are of course not as advanced and are limited compared to what is available in the private sector. Again, perhaps due to a combination of unsuitable hearing aids and lack of understanding, some fittings ended in disaster. Evenstill, I was successfully fitted with Oticon Spirit Synergy Power hearing aids six-years ago and soon discovered Oticon had a remarkable device called the Streamer Pro.
I would require to be fitted with the wireless version of my hearing aids, so I was referred back to audiology and was fitted a few weeks later. Despite being the same model, the wireless version of the Oticon Spirit Synergy Power hearing aids were a slight improvement in terms of clarity. I looked at the audiologist in confusion as I heard something I had not heard before; it was the extractor fan. A whole new world began to open up to me with the latest technology in the NHS. I was also able to use the telephone at work more confidently using my Streamer Pro and I was delighted.
It isn’t all positive though. As I have aged, my hearing has stabilised yet my uneasiness at the lack of support provided had grown. Increasingly I was feeling isolated with my hearing care. After being discharged from the care of audiological medicine, this only deteriorated. I was informed that I would now be required to go to my GP to get a referral back to audiology if I wanted an appointment to have a check up or to get new ear moulds. This was exasperating and somewhat disconcerting considering my long hearing history.
Now at the age of thirty-two, I felt as if I barely knew anything about my hearing loss and care. Appointments were over in a blink of an eye after such long waiting times. The audiologist would robotically go through the motions as if you were just another product on the conveyor belt, through no fault of their own. It was just the system.
A New Journey
Although we are incredibly lucky to have the NHS, I started to wonder if there was anything else out there that I could have access to. Feeling somewhat optimistic, I came across one Facebook post. I commented intrigued about this latest technology and pondering if it would ever be within my reach. That comment evolved into e-mail correspondence with my prospective new audiologist and I began to feel more valued as well as more hopeful about embarking on a new journey with my hearing.
As I made that significant and tentative step of booking a hearing assessment in the private sector, my first introduction into what the private sector had to offer was ear moulds. I had issues with my NHS silicone ear moulds and therefore decided to explore what the private sector offered.
Before my hearing assessment, I went to have ear impressions made. It was not inexpensive but I was able to justify it. The new moulds would last more than three years and I considered the investment worthwhile after considering the waiting time for referral back in to the NHS audiology department.
Comparing the private sector and the NHS,
It was a revelation. The care and information I was given was beyond anything I could have imagined and for the first time, I even saw inside my ears! I was advised on the different types of ear moulds and considering the issues I was having, I was recommended Thermotec moulds made by Egger, a German manufacturer. They were so meticulous when taking my ear impressions and paid attention to the finer detail.
Two weeks later, I attended my hearing assessment and was also fitted with my new moulds. They were effectively transparent. For the first time, I did not feel as if I had ear moulds in my ears and I also had thinner tubing, which was declined to me in the NHS. Yet another revelation.
The hearing assessment was such a positive experience and I felt I gained more knowledge and understanding about my hearing than I ever have had with the NHS. The time and detail that was taken was priceless. Of course, if audiology services in the NHS had the resources and were not so stretched, I would like to think more time and detail would be taken. This would result in a more positive experience for people of all ages who are unable to access the private sector due to financial constraints.
The Next Step
The next step in my hearing journey is looking at the latest hearing technology available and one such possibility is trying the new addition to the Oticon OPN family with the Power BTE, which is due for release in late April and I, for one, cannot wait.