Raising awareness of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss


Nikki Magrath with her audiologist and winner of the European audiologist of the year, Duncan Collet-Fenson. © Rayovac

UK hearing healthcare professional Duncan Collet-Fenson was chosen as the 2016 European Audiologist of the Year. This title crowned many years of work with a patient who suffered with Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL). The team at Aston Hearing Service are now on a mission to raise awareness about SSHL and help professionals and patients determine the right emergency treatment.

It’s been an eventful year for Duncan Collet-Fenson and the team at Aston Hearing Services. Duncan explains, “The last 12 months has been hectic! We doubled the size of our team, opened a new full-time practice, extensively refurbished our main practice and of course won Audiologist of the Year.” Not only did Duncan win the UK title, but in October was “Shocked to have done the double”, as he was crowned European Audiologist of the Year at the Rayovac evening of excellence.

The team has not stood still since then. “Our immediate thoughts were – how can we make the most of this in the Ear Foundation. Nikki started researching cochlear implants too. A week later Nikki put her hearing aid back in and Duncan was able to confirm with Nikki that her hearing had finally returned to the levels prior to the SSHL incident. All of them felt like a miracle had happened.

“From that moment onwards we determined not to let this experience pass without improving services. We met with our ENT shortly after who as a result has written us a covering letter that we can give to anyone that presents to our office with the symptoms. The letter enables patients to go direct to GP/Hospital pharmacy for the steroids without having to go through A&E triage. This is an enormous step forward.”

From patient to employee

And now Nikki works for Aston Hearing Services. “We have recruited Nikki to be our Community Events Co-Ordinator. Nikki is a great advocate for hearing awareness and gave talks to local interest groups independently from Aston Hearing. With her experience of living with reduced hearing day to day, hearing instrument use and SSHL she was the perfect fit to work alongside Aston Hearing to promote all these facets of hearing healthcare to the public but also healthcare professionals and organisations. She has been a fantastic addition to the team with her insights into hearing care. Nikki has already been involved with event planning and interacting with many clients either discussing the merits of hearing aid use to those just starting out their hearing journey to seeing clients who have worn hearing devices for years but have never really discussed the challenges with anyone in a similar situation. Nikki’s positive attitude to living with hearing challenges is really helping people recognise that life really can be lived to the full – however mammoth the difficulties faced.”

Developing the family business

Nikki has joined a very busy practice. Duncan and Kate Collet-Fenson have been working in the business for 20 years now and were lucky to have a “great mentor” –Sue Webster (Kate’s mother.) Sue established Aston Hearing in 1989, after several years’ service in the NHS she recognised that there was a market for clients who required more time, attention and choice than they were being offered both by the NHS and elsewhere privately. “We hope that those core values are still at the centre of what drives us, our team and the business forward. We have taken a conscious decision to invest in the ‘people’ at Aston Hearing. To enable us to offer a high level of service we believe you need a high ratio of good people to deliver the Aston Hearing ‘experience’ to the people accessing our services.”

There is a team that work hard behind the scenes organising and hosting events which create opportunities to ‘advertise’ using traditional methods and social media which then becomes the catalyst for new into the business. “We have continued to foster good relationships with local GP practices and other professionals and are acutely aware that referrals and word of mouth be it from a friend of professional are the lifeblood of the practice,” Duncan said.

“We both embrace change and are always open to new ideas and concepts which I think has helped us to adapt with the market. I also believe you are never too old to learn and think continually reviewing your service offering, procedures, skills and trying to look with new eyes at what and where you work is important. AIHHP [Association of Independent Hearing Healthcare Professionals] has been a great help over the years we have been members. Listening to leading figures in audiology and keeping upto- date with current or future thinking and also discussing either formally, or over a drink, with my fellow members has been invaluable and certainly influenced Aston Hearing.”

Duncan on a mission

So, what’s next for the European Audiologist of the Year after a whirlwind year? “The road map for this year is hopefully less chaotic, but equally as important to driving the business forward.” Duncan said. “We have planned a series of monthly awareness events which are already proving successful and a number of interesting projects to work on over the year – including working very closely with hearing charities, especially Hearing Link and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.” And the focus on Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss continues, “Our mission with SSHL is try and find out more how it is dealt with in other countries. We feel that the way the UK NHS/GP/A&E is set up at the moment it is very difficult to ascertain the right emergency treatment. We will continue to pursue this and hope that perhaps with the help of publications such as Audio Infos and Audiology World News we can learn more and better serve communities throughout the UK.”

Victoria Adshead, Audio Infos UK