Greater awareness needed over cochlear implants to help the deaf


By Tamara Schofield

ONLY ONE in five people with hearing impairments in the UK who could benefit from a cochlear implant get referred for assessment.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices which stimulate the inner ear, allowing people to hear a wider range of frequencies, enabling clearer sound recognition.

But not enough people are being sent for them, says the National Cochlear Implant Users Association.

There are about 173,000 adults profoundly deaf in the UK of whom 8,000 have received cochlear implants, which leaves a vast number of adults who could potentially benefit from the procedure. 

Richard Byrnes, NCIUA executive committee member, said: “We are concerned at the relatively low level of adult cochlear implant activity and have produced several key reports to substantiate the case that cochlear implants are an investment for the NHS which despite their high cost actually saves the NHS money in the long run.”

Last week Channel 4 broadcast True North’s documentary, Breaking The Silence: Live, which featured a group of profoundly deaf people having their cochlear implants turned on for the first time.

Some of the patients had been deaf since birth while others lost their hearing as recently as six months ago.

Before the show, the patients underwent surgery to have the devices fitted, and on the night of the broadcast, they were switched on live, allowing some people to hear for the first time.

It was filmed at the Richard Ramsden Centre for Hearing Implants at Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Mr Byrnes added: “I thought it a very good production which captured both the hopes and apprehensions of candidates as they encountered ‘switch on’.

I recall my own such emotions 14 years ago when I went through that experience. It really has changed my life for the better.”

Some of the reasons why people may not be referred to get a cochlear implant include: an acceptance of ‘old age’ effects, very low awareness by the general public and low awareness of cochlear implants in audiology units.

Dr Martin O’Driscoll, consultant clinical scientist, and head of the audiology department at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said: “The documentary gave me the opportunity to make contact with a wider audience and express my commitment to this amazing medical procedure.”

Sally Dixon, the programme’s executive producer, said: “The audience’s feedback and reviews have been amazing, it has been fantastic and I have no doubt that it has changed people’s lives.”

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