Last week after much waiting in frustration on my part I got fitted with my new digital hearing aids from the NHS. Oticon Chili (or as the NHS call them Sprit Zest C

It’s only taken six months of waiting.

You’d think I’d be jumping for joy at the wonderful instruments – the latest gadgetry in NHS Digital aids (a new post to follow).

The features if you are really interested are best explained by Oticon website and a brilliant series of posts by Neil Houston (@Rasga) as he has successfully been using them with his apple products.

  • bluetooth compatible with mobile phone, laptop, landline phone and TV
  • are wireless (change one aid setting the other one changes automatically)
  • have a range of settings for different situations (like a noisy pub, club, induction loop, lecture hall and even a music gig)

What it would mean crucially is no more taking left ear hearing aid out and jamming the mobile to my ear at the loudest possible setting in an uncomfortable attempt to hear phone calls. I can’t use my right ear at all. What it means everyone around me hears the phone call fully but not me.

The new aids even come custom made to my colour specifications (ok I had a chart to chose from but for me it was fantastic to have that choice). So much I chose two and not one. I did get to see the pink metalic ones and they looked cool. (NHS give you metalic silver but would I want them to match my mackbook?).

Unfortunately the moment was snatched by my encounter with another audiologist who I feel treated me like I was stupid and a child.

I’d been seen by a great Audiologist up till now (who I will call ‘A’) who had not only talked through my problems with my current set and not being able to use my mobile with them without lots of grief.

‘A’ gave me a chance to test out some new technology. What I’d not realised was it would take nearly 6 months to get this far. ‘A’ listens to what I have to say and treats me like anyone should be treated. As a human being.

I like a challenge and a digital challenge involving pushing digital hearing aids to the max is my idea of fun. So I have the opportunity to test out some new equipment that is a first for the department and I want to give them some good feedback. If it benefits others even if not me then it will be worth it.

I last had an appointment with ‘A’ nearly 2 months ago when the aids were finally ordered (before that another appointment to find out what the issues were with someone else). The NHS moves slowly and Audiology does too.

I’d been ringing for the last 5 weeks to find out what was happening for an update with no success. I ended up emailing as I wasn’t convinced my messages were being passed on.

When I contacted Audiology last week I was told the new aids had arrived. I had an appointment to have them fitted in 23 days time (I’d not had the letter yet despite me asking them to email me (saves the postage doesn’t it?).

I’d to wait another 4 weeks to be seen! I complained and demanded this time to speak to someone in charge. ‘A’ was on annual leave and has to jump between working at three clinics so was already really difficult to get in contact with.

I spoke to Audiologist ‘B’ and explained why I was getting anxious at the long wait (sweaty ears, infections  and irritation taking the aid in and out so much. I nearly got hospitalised once with a raging ear infection and I didn’t want a repeat.

Audiologist ‘B’ agreed to fit me in. Before this was agreed I had a long lecture about waiting times and how I was taking someone else’s appointment if I was seen sooner. I did try to hold my own and explain my issues.

I was told it had been nearly 18 weeks up till being fitted so I was within their waiting times. Unbelievably they measure waiting time from when you have your first appointment to be referred for new aids (not the 2 months previous where I’d first raised the issue).

Audiologist ‘B’  agreed to fit the aids the following day. I wish I hadn’t of bothered.

I am not convinced they have been set right the sound is really tinny, I feel like my ears are being set up by a badly tuned stereo and sound cuts out when anyone speaks and at random sounds.

Everything sounds weird (which I know is the case you brain has to retune to new aids and can take months but not like this). It was making me sick and disorientated. I’m back using my old ones.

I’m seeing Audiologist ‘A’ this Friday 19th August (the only good thing about the fitting was getting my appointment brought forward by a grand total of 4 days and it’s not right on top of the bank holiday weekend).

What shouldn’t have shocked me but did, was the response on twitter of other people’s experience in Audiology departments and how shocking they were.

I’m considering a campaign around this – any thoughts?.

As a result of tweeting I was signposted to Patient Opinion by Shirley Ayres.

I like the idea – complain, get your frustations out and get a response. Just much like what Pesky People and Go Genie is about.

I’m impressed I only posted it yesterday and there was a reply back today from Telford Princess Royal Hospital.

Unfortunately because all postings are anonymous I got a bog standard response (I’d done my digging its the same response other people have received). I needed to contact them direct (why not an option to allow NHS to contact you via Patient Opinion?).

I then received a second response – they had taken the issue up with the Audiology Manager. I now have to work out if I complain formally. Oh oh.

I am glad they are willing to take the problems seriously and I’ll discuss it with ‘A’ on Friday to know who to talk to (and what to do next).

I would have rather had the choice of email correspondance though especially since I was raising issues regarding Deaf communication. So what was all the fuss?

The appointment was a nightmare starting with me arriving at the waiting room in a panic just as my name was being called (blame broken down ticket machine in the car park).  I’m usually late (as anyone will tell you :-/) so that didn’t help my panic.

This time I arrived in time. There was Audiologist ‘B’ yelled my name LOUDLY in the waiting room.

Rule 1 never SHOUT at a Deaf person 1) it’s rude 2) it distorts lip patten making it difficult to lipread and 3) bit obvious but in  a Audiology waiting room/hearing aid clinic HELLO!? YOUR PATIENTS ARE DEAF or HARD OF HEARING! :-/

Have a visual display system that shows names as well (there is a ticket number system like you get at the meat counter in a supermarket but wasn’t being used). It’s common sense. Just talk normally and invest in Deaf awareness training for staff.

(Shrewsbury Hospital Audiology also has a radio playing at a level that is both distracting and annoying when waiting – it took me ages to work out the weird sounds were coming from a radio). I’m still trying to understand the logic of that. Torture?

By the time I got to the end of the appointment I had to hold my arms crossed in frustation and anger. By the time I wrote it all down on Patient Opinion I was shocked.

  • I was told off from the start (when ‘B’ saw my existing (red and blue hearing aids) I was informed that they did not give out such hearing aids (the new ones are purple and red). Basically I was being told how dare I want another colour other than beige? The model they usually provide are metallic silver.
  • I was told I should not have been given hearing aids in another colour, only children get them and even then rarely.
  • My current set are ‘no good to anyone because of the colour (‘B’ pulled a face). They will have to be recycled’. No one would want them. I like bright colours I wanted bright coloured aids. I wouldn’t wear them otherwise.
  • I was told off for stock piling hearing aid batteries (‘costs the NHS thousands’) when I asked for more than 2 packets of batteries. I know for a fact that each battery I use currently doesn’t last a week in each aid – so a packet lasts 3 weeks. Why should I have to go to the hospital every time I need new batteries.? I’d have to drive and pay for parking and it’s a 12 mile return journey. My comments were dismissed as if I was talking rubbish and informed I could take my hearing aid book (does anyone with one know where their book is located – I don’t) to my GP surgery and they will fill it in when I get new batteries << WHY?! Why can’t they note it on the computer system? Back to school.
  • I was made to sit with testing equipment looped around each ear when it was uncomfortable because ‘B’ wanted me to keep them on even though there was no reason to. I’m not sure if the sensor wire was still in each ear at this point.
  • ‘B’ decided the settings on my aids (surround sound, induction loop, directional eg noisy situations) without asking me what settings I wanted or the order and when I challenged this ‘B’ said ‘what order do you want them in then’ really sharply. I backed off. I didn’t want to get into an argument.
  • ‘B’ insisted on crossing out with a blue pen the pages not relevant to my digital aids. 1.) I am not stupid I can read and make logical sense of text and 2.) it is insulting to be treated like you are stupid. I didn’t want the audiologist to write the settings in. I asked for them on a separate piece of paper because I knew they would be changed the following week. I watched ‘B’ defiantly cross out pages and tick pages turning each page of the instruction manual with a sweeping hand. It was upsetting to watch. I am not a child.
  • I was told the new aid settings were being set lower so to save what hearing I had as when I get old I’d not want to be deaf (!) I couldn’t even answer that one (especially as I have severe high frequency hearing loss that is due to nerve damage). I’ve been Deaf since birth wearing hearing aids over 34 years.
  • I was informed that my current digital hearing aids ‘in ‘B’s opinion’ were unsuitable for my type of hearing loss (which I feel is absolute rubbish) I’m getting new ones to work with my mobile phone.
  • Asked the classic line ‘can you hear me’ loudly when the new aids were put in (‘B’ also insisted in putting the aids in my ears and switching them on). I hate that ever since an audiologist years ago put both aids on deliberately at full volume before putting it into my ear (it really hurt)). I also have funny shaped ears. I can put my own aids in thank you!

The appointment concluded with ‘B’ saying it was over ‘because I have things to do’ … without looking at me.

I fled as quick as I could to the cafe for cup of tea and head in a newspaper to calm down and wished I’d just stuck out the wait to see Audiologist ‘A’.

I’m seeing ‘A’ on Friday. I know the appointment will be a far better more positive experience. ‘A’ also makes the appointments interesting and fun – we have a conversation.

I am worried that it will jeopardise any future treatment I have there (or who sees me).

It’s clear from my complaint on Patient Opinion who I am even if it is anonymous I’m not (since I’ve previously been told I am the only adult in the whole of Shropshire so far to request hearing aids in any other colour other than beige). They know me.

It makes me even more aware of the issues Go Genie needs to address about complaints and what people feel and the process involved – at the end of the day it is basically all about good customer service.

Sadly the next day I didn’t fare much better at my GP surgery in Telford.

Another voice announcement system in operation only here I am dependant on a busy receptionist being able to hear I’ve been called and to come and tell me (yup that’s right).

As usual, what happens is the receptionist comes out from behind the desk to say I’ve been called (if she hears the announcement I’ve been missed before).

This time I’m tapped on my back and loudly at the side of my face as I turn round she says ‘go to Dr  _____ room that way’ and points.

The whole waiting room watches me yet again walk across the room. I’m fuming.

I’ve been asking for over two years for them to implement a visual display system without success. Usually my GP comes and gets me (that gets me looks as well).

Yes I’ve raised the issue for me and other Deaf/hard of hearing patients several times and spoke to the Practice Manager and suggested how to resolve it.

I’m still waiting.