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April 28, 2006

Lawyer has two-year wait for hearing aids

From: Sunderland Today, UK - Apr 28, 2006

A PARTIALLY-DEAF solicitor is forced to take an assistant to help her in court while she waits up to two years for a hearing aid.

Trainee lawyer Helen Abraham, 23, struggles to follow court cases and tribunals becasue she is hard of hearing so has to be accompanied by a junior member of staff to help her fill in the parts she misses.

She also finds it difficult to use the phone so she has to communicate with her boyfriend Michael Stockdale, 19, by text.

Helen, of Hollycarrside, Sunderland, was diagnosed with hearing problems last year and is on the waiting list at Sunderland Royal Hospital to have two aids fitted.

But, as revealed in the Echo this week, patients are having to wait 18 months to be seen at the hospital's audiology department.

Helen has a year-long wait for her second appointment and fears it could be up to two years before she actually gets her hearing aids fitted, despite being told she would be a priority because of her age.

Helen, who works for George Mills, of The Galleries, Washington, is due to qualify as a solicitor next year and specialises in employment law and often has to attend county court cases.

She said: "It's really hard. I'm genuinely struggling a lot of the time. Following conversation is a nightmare if there's any background noise.

"It's upsetting. It gets me down a lot of the time. There's nothing I can do, other than go private and I can't afford it, I've just graduated."

It is believed that Helen, who lives with her parents, was born with a hereditary hearing problem, but it was only diagnosed last year.

She struggles to hear low tones, which makes it difficult to follow conversations, particularly if it involves a male voice.

She has difficulty filtering out background noise and can't use mobile phones.

She said: "I'm office based a lot of the time, but even just following a conversation on the telephone, I've got to ask people two or three times to repeat what they're saying.

"I had never noticed before, but looking back there were signs. When I used to do swimming, I couldn't hear the whistle."

Helen also performs with Seaham Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society and sometimes has difficulty hearing the music.

She was assessed at Sunderland Royal Hospital in December last year. Her next appointment is on December 19 this year.

She said: "It's not as if I'm going to get my aids in December. I reckon it's going to be another two years.

"They were saying I would be a priority, but it's still 12 months before I'm even going to be seen next. I think it's going to be a couple of years."

Managers at Sunderland Royal Hospital have apologised for the 18-month waits, which were sparked by a shortage of qualified staff and an increase in demand for hearing aids.

They have developed an internal training programme to help address the problem and have plans to dramatically reduce waiting times.

28 April 2006

© 2006 Sunderland Today