Case Study: Hear to Help, Powys

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16th March 2021


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Research shows that 65% of new hearing aid users experience difficulties in using their aid. Volunteers at Hear to Help clinics can undertake minor repairs, in the local community, thereby saving people hours of travel time to visit their NHS audiology department and minimising the need for hospital outpatient appointments.

This blog was written by Fiona Liddell, Helpforce Manager for Wales.

Action on Hearing Loss works in partnership with NHS audiologists and with volunteers, many of whom have a hearing loss themselves.

What do volunteers do?

Volunteers set up and run Hear to Help clinics in local libraries, community centres and other local venues, according to a publicised schedule. Volunteers are trained by NHS Audiologists to resolve some of the common problems people encounter with their hearing aids. These include battery and tubing replacement, basic hearing aid maintenance as well as providing advice on how to get the most out of the hearing aids. They are also promoting the benefits of self-maintenance by teaching hearing aid users, family members and carers how to perform basic maintenance. This potentially means people will be able to maintain their own hearing aids while at home.

Volunteers are equipped with a kit of tools and spare parts. They attend annual refresher training, delivered by audiologists, in order to keep up to date with the ever advancing technology and new models of hearing aid. They can also refer clients on to their GP, social services sensory team or to Community Connectors, as appropriate.

Making a difference

The service provides NHS hearing aid users with basic hearing aid maintenance much closer to home. Hospital clinics are often very busy and these drop in sessions help reduce the demand at hospitals whilst making access easier and more convenient for patients.

The impact on clients is obvious. ‘When someone comes into the clinic who hasn’t been for some months and a volunteer sorts out their hearing aid, there is a grin from ear to ear’ said Rachael Beech, Hear to Help Manager with Action on Hearing Loss, which operates predominately in Powys. ‘Volunteers can see immediately the impact they have had on someone’s quality of life and this is so gratifying. Many volunteers experience hearing loss themselves and can empathise with their clients. They know the effect that hearing loss can have on one’s self confidence, as well as one’s ability to participate in social activities’

The Powys Hear to help service runs clinics in 15 locations on a monthly basis. The skilful band of volunteers also carries out between 10 and 20 home visits a month, visits 18 or 19 care homes a year and attend 3 ‘leg clubs’ regularly (where dressings are renewed by district nurses at community venues).

For some clients, coming along to the Hear to Help clinic has become part of their routine, where they can find a cup of tea or coffee and a friendly chat as well as having their hearing aid attended to.

Challenges and lessons learned

The volunteers’ role can be challenging. Rachael said ‘Volunteers need to work close up in someone’s personal space. But whoever it is, and whatever their situation, volunteers maintain an equitable and consistent standard of service. Sometimes volunteers are unable to solve a client’s problem and there is no option but to refer for an audiology appointment. This doesn’t always go down well and volunteers have to manage a client’s disappointment’.

Maintaining a consistent service over such a large and varied geographical area is a further challenge. ‘We have 39 volunteers at the moment but there are often problems regarding cover due to illness or volunteers moving away or retiring and recruiting in such a rural area such as Powys has many challenges.’ said Rachael. ‘A clinic cannot run without at least two volunteers. If necessary, I step in and cover where there are volunteer vacancies. We avoid cancelling clinics as far as possible.’

The Hear to Help programme is an exemplary partnership between audiologists who have the professional expertise and Action for Hearing Loss which has expertise in involving volunteers and the flexibility to set up and develop new systems that work for local people in their communities.

‘Working with NHS professionals, we have to operate a highly professional service ourselves’ said Rachael ‘We have to ensure that health care and audiology standards are being met and to demonstrate that the service that is being delivered is second to none. I submit a detailed and specific report for the commissioners within Powys although the service cover 4 separate Health Boards.

‘We have a tremendous working relationship with audiology departments; they recognise the difference that we can make and enable us to run a valuable community based service’.

Developing and sustaining the service

The first Wales Hear to Help programme began in Radnorshire almost ten years ago, when volunteers were recruited and trained, referrals received from audiologists and home visits arranged. Then the service expanded to cover much of Wales, with clinics being held in community venues and having more centralised co-ordination.

When grant funding ceased in 2016, it was hoped that the seven Health Boards in Wales would continue to invest in the service, so as not to lose the excellent service that had been developed. Since then, Powys Teaching Health Board now commissions Action on Hearing Loss to deliver the service on a rolling basis and Swansea Bay University Health Board has taken the service ‘in house’, where it continues to be run by volunteers but under the auspices of the Health Board.

The Impact of Covid 19

Action on Hearing Loss has continued to support clients in Powys throughout the lockdown period, with volunteers undertaking a great deal of activity remotely. 'Despite not being able to help clients face to face in our clinics or home visits, we have been able to direct them to the support they need' said Rachael Beech 'we are to arrange pick up of hearing aids for postal repairs and we continue to give advice and information over the phone and by post.

'The Hear to help service may well look a bit different for a while but we will get back to full force just as soon as we can, with all our wonderful volunteers!'

Meet some of the team and see what volunteers do, in our short video.