- Published on 12 December 2023
Today Coventry, tomorrow the world is an unlikely banzai for anyone to proclaim, but it seemed to fit the spirit of tenacity and reaffirmed orientation coursing through a record gathering at the 2023 Annual Conference of the British Academy of Audiology.
Held in the events facilities of a football ground (Coventry Building Society Arena) erected before such stadia became architecturally dreamy, and protected from the brewing Storm Ciarán outside, the event drew an attendance to meet the capacity for the facilities.
The event’s delegate count of 650+ was just one of the highlights of a two-day gathering for hearing care professionals who, from the get-go, were made aware of both the hurt running through the ranks following a scandal of failings in NHS Scotland’s paediatric service, and the need to refocus professional efforts on quality: in training, in service delivery, in thinking,...
From the upbeat ground floor hearing industry exhibition, an early buzz rose and was supercharged two floors above in the main auditorium, laid out cabaret-style with ample round tables and ready, at 09:20 on November 2, for an uncustomarily schedule-bumped Bamford Lecture: UK paediatric audiology: climbing a mountain or climbing out of a hole?
Once BAA President Samantha Lear had set the tone by telling the floor that “we need to prepare for a challenging year ahead”, just a few Bamford phonemes from Claire Benton (Head of Audiology, Nottingham Hospitals NHS Trust and newly appointed VP of the BAA) were enough to convey to the audience that scaling heights or clambering out of holes both require quite a push.
Her quivering voice and dramatic, rhythmical speech instantly conveyed the despair of many in the profession at not only the failings that have brought it humiliation but also the manner in which fingers were pointed as NHS and government managers worked through a process of review and recommendations that was reported in some detail by national media.
Benton’s speech thinned out anger with irony but struck a frank note that many delegates fiercely applauded. On behalf of her professional colleagues, she accepted responsibilities and passionately lamented the “appalling” damage to the lives of an estimated 3,000 children whose hearing loss was missed in diagnoses. She condemned a debilitating funding shortage and recruitment crisis in audiology, as well as deleterious training deficiencies.
“It’s not just paediatrics, this is our whole profession,” said Benton, calling for both the implementation of standards of quality assurance and greater professional discipline from audiologists.
“We should not be marking our own homework,” she blasted.
Lectures, abstracts, technology talks, research, posters,...
While the Bamford Lecture signalled a no-nonsense tone for the professional side of the Conference, the learning side was just beginning. A keynote lecture from Ian Baines, Associate Director, NHS Horizons, NHS England, and NHS Improvement - The power to make a difference - also engaged early on the first day. Over the two full days, there were more than 20 presentations in the event’s main space, the Premier Lounge. The wisdom came from, among others, Dr. Anisa Visram, Lecturer in Audiology at the University of Manchester; Dr. Saima Rajasingam, Lecturer in Audiology, Anglia Ruskin University; and Catherine Killan, University of Nottingham.
Unsurprisingly, no fewer than seven of the Premier Lounge lectures focused directly on paediatrics.
On the second afternoon, the customary Adrian Davis Lecture was this year given by Dr. Barbra Timmer, President of Audiology Australia: Hearing rehabilitation outcomes: Our role in addressing well-being, stigma and adapting audiology services.
Organisers also revealed that a record number of research posters were displayed at the Conference. The figure of 650+ delegates was the highest attendance ever at a BAA Conference. The organisers mentioned that this figure may be the highest ever of any in-person UK audiology conference.
There was some reason, therefore, for a party atmosphere at the nostalgic disco-themed socialising and networking evening held in the venue’s Anecdote bar, where many went prepared with approximations of ‘70s clobber.
A vibrant industry exhibition
Over 50 stands at the industry exhibition attracted a constant flow of visitors, featuring the usual product demonstrations and explanations from willing teams of representatives and audiology and tech experts. A few stands boasted decent coffee with barista service, always appreciated! The official sponsorship partners for this BAA 19th Annual Conference were Cochlear, Danalogic GN, Interacoustics, Natus, and Oticon.
President Sam Lear : “We put our money where our mouth is!”
In conversation with Audiology News UK during a buzzing first day of the Conference, BAA President Samantha Lear put the successful attendance down largely to efforts made by her team in getting communication right.
“I’ve seen in the past that I don’t think we were communicating what was happening, and there was always a bit of an assumption that people were keeping up to date. But actually I can see that people don’t know unless you specifically tell them what’s going on. They fill in the gaps by themselves or they get the wrong idea,” she points out.
“What I’ve tried to do,” Lear continued, “is actually tell people what’s happening and keep them in the loop, and try and get people talking to each other and get the right information across. I think we’ve improved over the last few years at telling people what we’re doing and why we need them to join, and that’s kind of rippling on and I think they can see we are trying to support them, and that they need that support and need to link it. And that’s why they are coming!”
Buoyed by the Conference attendance, but referring to the recent difficult process of review and recommendation following failings in paediatric audiology, Lear underlined the spirit of determination palpable in her team’s performance: “I’m really happy. I think people can see that we put our money where our mouth is at the conference. This is our actual job, doing audiology and paediatric audiology, and we have been affected, and we do care. I could have stepped down after a year but I think you’ve got to see the job through,” she affirmed.
One of the major problems facing the profession is a recruitment crisis that shows no signs of having any clear or immediate solutions, a situation Lear confirmed as “like banging your head against a brick wall”.
Identifying concerns related to recruitment - such as the NHS workforce losing out to the private sector, and young people coming into audiology who either do not meet expectations of quality or find their eventual work delivering little payback after their having invested in a degree course - Lear pointed out that the BAA has been seeking solutions in cooperation with NHS England. One avenue being pursued is through old-school on-the-job training. “Everybody’s quite keen on the idea of apprenticeships and growing your own at the moment, which does work well,” Lear affirms. “It’s a great idea, but it isn’t enough on its own to fill the hole,” she adds.
Source: Audiology UK Issue 05 November-December 2023