Hearing Link

Blog: Volunteering at the Audiology Drop-In Centre at Manchester Royal Infirmary

Thoughts, insights and experiences

By John Newton, Hearing Link volunteer

Not long ago at the audiology clinic in Manchester I met a charming teenage girl with cochlear implants which had been implanted when she was a baby. She was accompanied by her mum, and was looking for help with using her smart phone. I was delighted to be able to satisfy my curiosity about how children cope with cochlear implants. Even before she was verbal, her mum told me, she understood what the clever aid did for her and, if it fell off, she would pick it up and re-attach it without prompting. This marvellous device meant that she had attended normal schools and grown up articulate and confident.

This encounter came about because every two weeks I take the train into Manchester to the audiology department of Manchester Royal Infirmary (MRI) where I help to run the drop-in centre. The centre provides advice on assistive devices, the extra bits of equipment which can help in various listening situations by feeding a better signal into your aid. They help with things like listening to the TV, talking to your partner in a restaurant or coping with a group discussion. These normally don’t come free in the NHS (although in certain circumstances they can be supplied by social services or via schemes like Access to Work).

There is no funding for the service, it’s run on a shoe-string. All the staff are volunteers like myself, and the equipment is donated by various manufacturers. The clinic is the regional centre for cochlear implants (in addition to their normal business of fitting hearing aids). Unlike Hearing Link’s Hearing Hub, the clinic does not deal with alerting devices although we have all the information available about them and can advise people how to go about getting them. The good thing is that we can lend people equipment to try out at home.

My fellow volunteers are an amiable bunch. Some are deaf but not all. Some are retired and include a consultant pharmacologist, a civil servant with massive experience in the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions) and a high school teacher. From time to time audiology students come to help. They welcome the chance to see real patients and bring a welcome youthful leavening to the grey hairs (or white, see below!).

Like all volunteers at MRI we have to go through complex qualification and vetting processes and various training sessions, both face-to-face and by computer, learning before we get the badge which all hospital staff display. We also have to log on and off when we appear in the hospital. MRI is a huge place with several hundred volunteers working in it.

I enjoy volunteering very much, both for the company of my fellow workers and for the huge variety of people who walk in and ask for help. Yesterday we had a woman whose first words were, “It’s nice to see someone with white hair working”! I didn’t quite know what to make of the remark (although I was inclined to tell her that I wasn’t getting paid).

A lot of problem hearing situations come up again and again such as watching TV, chatting in the pub, talking to a car passenger and how to communicate at family parties. We also have to learn the intricacies of the equipment. It gives a bad impression when we are demonstrating something if we can’t get it to work! On quiet afternoons we practise on each other.

I find any large hospital both fascinating and terrifying, and MRI is certainly both. It is very satisfying playing a small part in its huge and diverse function.

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