KidsAudiologist

Coronavirus and the changing world of audiologists

Posted on: April 4, 2020

The spread and impact of the coronavirus on all of our lives has been unprecedented and will continue to affect all of us for some time. When we watch the daily news it is easy to see the upheaval and impact that doctors, nurses and NHS services are going through whilst we are all being asked to #ProtectTheNHS and #SaveLives by staying home. Perhaps it can be harder to imagine the impact on some of the professionals who make up the teams who support deaf children. Here I will share a little of what is happening for audiologists right now and the impact on audiology services.

It’s not been widely reported but the first frontline health worker in the Republic of Ireland to die of coronavirus was an audiologist last Friday. The first in the UK an ENT doctor on Saturday. For their professional communities this has been a horrible shock.

Most audiology and cochlear implant teams have been reduced to skeleton staff and all routine hospital appointments have been cancelled. However, all services are doing their best to maintain hearing aid / cochlear implant repair and battery provision. I have written information for parents about what they can expect from their services available on the NDCS website and updated regularly – the situation is rapidly changing but we advise that any family that needs help, contact their usual service and find out what arrangements are. Audiologists are taking decisions on case by case basis, and within the context of their local facilities and local COVID-19 risk.

So what has happened to all the other audiologists?

Well, some are in self-isolation themselves, or shielding family members at home. Currently the NHS has lost about a quarter of its usual workforce for these reasons alone. Some audiologists are working from home and providing telephone/video support to patients, managing referrals into the service by triaging and prioritisation of new patients for when their service re-opens.

Many others however have been re-deployed into other roles. I attended a virtual meeting with around 118 Heads of Services this week and found out that audiologists are now (or soon will be) re-trained and working:

• in relative support and bereavement services
• as PPE mask fitters
• in laboratories
• monitoring and calibrating equipment on wards (e.g. ventilators)
• as newborn hearing screeners
• in the pharmacy warehouse picking and packing medicines
• in A&E as reception/triage/runners
• and some have gone to man the NHS 111 service.

And some of these are joining other healthcare colleagues and doing this from the new NHS Nightingale Hospital in London.

We have to acknowledge that there will be a significant number of children where there are currently concerns about their hearing but who are unable to get a diagnosis at present. These children and their families will be finding out at a much later stage than we would want and this is far from the ideal situation. NDCS will have much work to do with services and funders to make sure that these young children are given the very best support as soon as intervention is available again. But right now, NHS newborn hearing screening and audiology services are doing everything they can for babies and their existing caseloads of deaf children. In many cases they are managing much more than I ever thought would be possible given the current constraints. Our NDCS teams who are working with frontline professionals are taking a massive thank you from us and I would urge you to think about them too when we’re clapping for the NHS.

Take care and stay safe x

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