Audiologist awarded for research into demand for hearing services
An audiologist has helped to shape new clinics for people with hearing problems after looking into who needs them most.
Jack Allum has received a national award for his research into where hearing services are in the greatest demand across Swansea Bay.
As part of his dissertation, he decided to analyse which adults accessed audiology services the most over a three-year period.
Jack works as an advanced audiology practitioner within primary care.
He carried out the research alongside his day job as part of his master’s degree at the University of Manchester.
He found that audiology services were used the most by patients living in the most deprived areas throughout Swansea Bay, according to the Welsh Index of Multiple Deprivation (WIMD).
WIMD is the Welsh Government’s official measure of small area deprivation in Wales. It is designed to identify small areas where there are the highest concentrations of several types of deprivation.
Jack said: “I looked at all the adults that had accessed audiology services between 2017 and 2019.
“At that time, the health board was Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board so my research also included patients from Bridgend.
“Using routine patient data, I was able to group patients by age and their level of deprivation using their date of birth and postcode.
“My findings suggest that hearing loss is not only more prevalent but occurs at a younger age among people from more deprived backgrounds.
“When they are seen at audiology clinics, people from more deprived backgrounds also show signs of more severe hearing loss.
“The research can’t really identify the cause of why that is the case as the rate in which people experience hearing loss is influenced by many factors.
“But our observation that hearing loss is particularly prevalent at earlier ages among the most deprived is consistent with evidence that deprivation accelerates the aging process in general.”
While Jack has always been interested in exploring health inequalities, his research was inspired by Dr Julian Tudor-Hart, who worked as a GP in Wales for many years.
“He came up with the ‘inverse care law’ suggesting that the availability of good medical or social care tends to be concentrated in the most affluent areas, despite those living in the most deprived areas having the most complex health needs,” Jack added.
“Even though hearing loss is highly prevalent among adults, with about one in five estimated to have some form of hearing loss, audiology as a whole is not a well-funded, researched topic.
“The last study that gave an indicator of what the ‘normal’ levels of hearing loss are among adults in the UK was done in the 1980s.
“There is a national need to complete new research to understand the hearing health needs of the adult population now, particularly with respect to hearing health inequalities.”
Swansea Bay’s audiology department has recently undergone a major transformation which will deliver quicker specialist access for patients by providing audiology services within primary care.
Following successful trials, patients with hearing problems, tinnitus or problematic wax can now phone their GP surgery’s telephone triage system and book directly to see one of the primary care audiology teams at designated clinics.
The results of Jack’s research even helped during the planning of the clinics, which are spread across Swansea and Neath Port Talbot.
He said: “When we were planning the expansion it was really important to look at how we utilised the resources we had. We needed to make sure that access to the service was equitable, not just equal.
“Taking into consideration what my research showed, we have more clinics running in the areas we would expect to find a higher prevalence of hearing loss and therefore a greater need for hearing health services.”
Jack has even been recognised for his research at the British Academy of Audiology’s annual conference in Manchester.
Despite initially applying to submit his work on a poster display, he was later asked and encouraged to submit it as a verbal presentation instead.
“They included me as one of the speakers on the second day of the conference and I presented my research and findings in the main auditorium,” he said.
“On the first day at the opening ceremony, they announced there was a new award created that year in honour of Professor David Baguley who suddenly passed away in June.
“He had a huge big influence within the field of audiology, especially for patients with tinnitus.
“After explaining about the new award, my face appeared on the screen and I was invited on stage to collect my certificate. I hadn’t realised my work had been considered for any prizes.
“I found out afterwards that the criteria for the award was early career researchers. When they were considering my poster, which became my spoken presentation, they ranked all of the ones that had been submitted for that year and mine happened to score the highest.
“I was really humbled. It was really nice to put the work that we’ve been doing as a department on the map.”
Nicola Phillips, principal audiologist, said: “Jack is an influential part of the primary care audiology team.
“His keen interest in research is a great asset to our department and as this fantastic award demonstrates, also nationally.
“It is wonderful to see Jack recognised at this level.
“We are very proud to have had Jack carry out his training here at Swansea Bay and to progress to an advanced practitioner.
“He is a great inspiration to all his colleagues.”
(Swansea Bay NHS)
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