Charlie Swinbourne: Questions should be asked about why this deaf man is stuck with a half-working cochlear implant

Posted on October 24, 2016

Recently I was contacted by a deaf man called Christopher Robertson, who told me about his cochlear implant situation.

Christopher (below) wrote that his current cochlear implant only has around half of the electrodes working, which has led to many problems for him in being able to hear people.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-22-36-24However, he has been told it is not “clinically advisable” to have a replacement implant, with the hospital saying that he still has “measurably good hearing” from the device. Furthermore, he is also not able to have a second implant for his other ear.

Christopher said:

It is very frustrating being like this at the moment as I don’t hear all the sounds. I work full time and have difficulty hearing my colleagues and sometimes I have to ask repeatedly what they are talking about.

Even my wife and I struggle to have conversations as I don’t hear her first time. Like when the TV is on and have a conversation, I used to understand what she said. Now I have to lip-read and ask my wife to repeat what she is saying.

I started to feel down because I don’t talk too much, to save me having to keep asking people to repeat themselves. Instead I keep things to myself. I have noticed I get frustrated easily when not hearing right.

I contacted University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, and they confirmed that he has not been offered a replacement implant and also that he is not able to have a second implant.

They said: “in cases where patients receive measurably good hearing benefit from an existing cochlear implant, it is not clinically advised to have the device removed (explanted) and replaced.”

Regarding having a second implant for his other ear, they said: “Bilateral (one in each ear) implants are not approved for adults by NICE except for people with additional sensory disabilities e.g. registered blind. Hence it is not possible to get funding approved for cases that are outside NICE Guidelines.”

Christopher does seem to be in a no-man’s land, stuck with an implant that only offers him half of the benefit that it should do.

On a personal level, I know how hard it is to adjust to a new type of hearing aid, or to go from analogue hearing aids to digital.

Hearing via an implant that only offers half the electrodes must be a very difficult adjustment to make, and it’s an understatement to say that his situation is far from ideal. Considering the effect on his life, at work and at home, I really think that he deserves a better service – a fully working cochlear implant – to help him hear the maximum he is able to hear.

In a statement, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust said:

We are sorry to hear that Mr Robertson is unhappy with the level of hearing benefit he is currently receiving from his cochlear implant. The care and support of our patients remains our priority and we would urge him to discuss his concerns direct with the Hearing Implant team.

All of our patients receive highly specialist treatment dependent on their individual needs, as advised by the clinical decisions of our expert Multi-Disciplinary Team. The Trust is bound by NICE guidelines in the range of treatments it can offer and we work within these guidelines to deliver the best available treatment and devices to ensure maximum benefit to our patients.

I’d be interested in hearing from any other readers who have similar problems. I’m also hoping on Christopher’s behalf that his hospital change their minds on his situation soon.

Charlie is the editor of Limping Chicken, as well as being an award-winning filmmaker. He directed the comedies The Kiss and Four Deaf Yorkshiremen go to Blackpool, and three instalments of the documentary series Found. As a journalist, he has written for the Guardian and BBC Online.

The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

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