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Driving improvements in hearing health through life-changing research

Professor Kevin J Munro

Author: Professor Kevin J Munro

Hearing Health Theme Lead / Optimised Assessment and Diagnosis Lead

Twitter: @KevinJMunro

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Celebrating Deaf Awareness Week, and the 100 year anniversary of the Manchester Centre for Audiology and Deafness, Professor Kevin J Munro, NIHR Manchester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Hearing Health Theme Lead, introduces a series of thought provoking blogs by our Manchester BRC Hearing Health researchers.

Are audiology departments a major threat to your hearing?

Now that I have captured your attention, my answer is “No.” Audiology practice is vital in supporting the one in six people in the UK who have a hearing difficulty, but there may be opportunities to do things differently in clinical practice if we want to provide the best possible care. We need to question current clinical practice, check that it is based on good quality evidence, and modernise and retool as new evidence and developments come along.

The origins of what we currently do in clinical practice

The origins of audiology practice, or at least paediatric audiology practice, is beautifully and comprehensively captured by medical historian, Laura Dawes (100 years of deaf education and audiology at the University of Manchester, 1919-2019). The origins can be traced to an endowment to the University of Manchester, in 1919, from a local business man and cotton merchant, Sir James Jones, after the death of his son, Ellis Llwyd Jones, who was born with a hearing loss. The university used the endowment to appoint Irene Goldsack as a lecturer in ‘Teaching of the Deaf’; the term ‘audiology’ didn’t appear in common use until much later in the 20th century.  One of her first pupils was Alex Ewing and they formed a productive 40-year partnership that changed audiology practice forever (it wasn’t just a working partnership as they were married within a few years too!).

The Ewings were responsible for the foundations of what we now call paediatric audiology.  They recognised the importance of early identification and intervention for childhood hearing loss and the importance of family-centred practice. The contribution of Manchester, and the Ewings in particular, is recognised the world over.

Manchester’s leading role in future developments

Audiology practice has come a long way in the past 100 years. Manchester has made a world-leading, and life-changing, contribution to audiology in terms of education and training, research across the lifespan, service development and practice. It is because of TS Littler, an employee of the Ewings, that hearing aids have been available free-of-charge since the inception of the NHS in 1948.

In 2017 the National Institute for Health Research funded the Manchester BRC with a research theme on hearing health. This highlighted Manchester as a world-class research base for hearing health. Our research programme builds on new discoveries in prevention of hearing loss, diagnosis and intervention. Our work is driving improvements in hearing health and lasting change for all, through life-changing research that bridges the gap between new discoveries and individualised care.

Author and commentator Mark Henderson (The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters) warns of the danger of government adopting policy-based evidence i.e. adopting a policy and then searching for evidence to fit their policy. Along parallel lines, there is a real danger that hearing health professionals might adopt practice-based evidence – because, ‘we have always done things this way so current practice must be correct’. In fact, healthcare is not immune to practices that are not supported by evidence. The NIHR Manchester BRC is working with hearing health professionals to ensure this doesn’t happen.

We will be hosting a Manchester BRC showcase, in October of this year, to share the work of the Hearing Health theme. Leading up to the showcase, my BRC colleagues will share some of their research plans, and explain how these will affect the future of audiology practice; get ready for these thought provoking blogs.

Kevin J Munro is also an NIHR Senior Investigator