Technology enables Deaf people to access NHS 111

Technology is enabling the Deaf community to access NHS 111 when they need medical help urgently. Using a computer and webcam, or the InterpreterNow app on a smartphone or tablet, Deaf people can make a video call to a British Sign Language interpreter. The interpreter then telephones an NHS 111 adviser and relays the conversation.

Full detail at InterpreterNow


Direct Access Audiology

NHS England | September 2019| Direct Access Audiology

NHS England has released statistics and information on Direct Access Audiology. This section holds data on the number of referral to treatment (RTT) completed pathways and incomplete pathways for Direct Access Audiology.

View the data 

Healthwatch: How easy to use are services if you have a sensory impairment?

Healthwatch | August 2019 | How easy to use are services if you have a sensory impairment?

Healthwatch has consulted with people with some form of sensory loss impairment to learn more about accessing health services with sensory loss impairment. 

Those who were consulted who are deaf or have a hearing impairment say they can find it challenging to use the telephone booking system used by GP surgeries, with many practices operating a triage system where the patient is called back by the GP before being able to make an appointment.


A similar difficulty is experienced by those who receive a letter from the hospital and are asked to telephone to arrange a date for their appointment.

A common theme that emerged from the consultation was that staff awareness of sensory impairments appears to be a continuous issue, particularly especially at GP surgeries. People told us they would like more staff to ask whether they need help and how their needs can be met.

Individuals consulted also say they can lack autonomy and confidentiality which negatively impacts their independence and cause them to feel that they have limited control over their health and care needs.

Full news item available from Healthwatch 

Probiotics for preventing acute otitis media in children

Cochrane Library | June 2019 | Probiotics for preventing acute otitis media in children

The Cochrane Library has produced a systematic review that looks at the impact of taking probiotics (‘healthy bacteria’) for preventing acute middle ear infection in children.


Review question

Does taking probiotics (‘healthy bacteria’) prevent children from getting acute middle ear infections?


Acute middle ear infection is very common in childhood. It is caused by bacteria that travel from the upper part of the throat, through canals (called Eustachian tubes), to the middle ear. Symptoms include fever, earache, and occasionally the eardrum may perforate, discharging pus into the ear canal.

Antibiotics are often prescribed for acute middle ear infection, although they have only a modest effect on reducing symptoms. Moreover, excessive antibiotic use leads to antibiotic resistance, making them less effective for these and other infections. Consequently, preventing acute middle ear infection is highly desirable.

Probiotics are often sold as tablets or powders, as a food ingredient (e.g. in yogurt), and even sprayed directly into the throat. However, it is not yet clear whether they prevent acute middle ear infection. We analysed the scientific evidence to answer this question.

Study characteristics and searches

We searched and identified 17 randomised controlled trials (studies in which participants are assigned to one of two or more treatment groups using a random method), published before October 2018. All were conducted in Europe, and collectively included 3488 children. Twelve trials included children who were not prone to acute middle ear infections, whilst five trials included children who were prone to such infections.

Key results

One‐third fewer children not prone to acute middle ear infection who took probiotics experienced acute middle ear infections compared to children not taking probiotics. However, probiotics may not benefit children prone to acute middle ear infection. Taking probiotics did not impact on the number of days of school that children missed. None of the studies reported on the impact of probiotics on the severity of acute middle ear infection. There was no difference between the group taking probiotics and the group not taking probiotics in the number of children experiencing adverse events (harms).

Quality of the evidence

The quality (or certainty) of the evidence was generally moderate (meaning that further research may change our estimates) or high (further research is unlikely to change our estimates). However, the trials differed in terms of types of probiotics evaluated, how often and for how long they were taken, and how the trial results were reported.

Abstract available from Cochrane Library 

Full review at Cochrane 

Hearing loss across the life course

This blog describes how people are affected by hearing loss across the life course and sets out actions for prevention and treatment | Public Health England

There are around 11 million people across the UK with hearing loss – the partial or total inability to hear in one or both ears, of whom 50,000 are children.

The Health Profile for England: 2018 highlighted that hearing loss, together with vision loss, skin diseases and oral problems account for nearly 20% of morbidity (Years Lived with Disability), with age-related hearing loss a growing burden. By 2031, it is estimated that 14.5 million people, approximately 20% of the UK population, will have hearing loss.

Why is this an important public health issue? Firstly, hearing loss affects around 1 in 6 of us, from birth or acquired during the course of our lives and has a huge impact on our health and wellbeing; secondly, it is largely preventable or treatable with cost effective interventions; and thirdly, the costs of unaddressed hearing loss to individuals, their families and wider society are immense.

Read the full article at Public Health England

A hearing aid that reads minds: Speaker-independent auditory attention decoding without access to clean speech sources

Han, C., O’Sullivan, J., Luo, Y., Herrero, Mehta, A.D., & Mesgarani, N. | 2019|
Speaker-independent auditory attention decoding without access to clean speech sources|Science Advances| AAV6134 | DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aav6134
New research that uses  a novel speech separation algorithm to automatically separate speakers in mixed audio, has the potential to prevent the ‘cocktail party’ problem where all sound is amplified by modern hearing aids rather than increasing the volume of an individual voice. Although the technology behind this study is in its early stages, it is a significant step toward better hearing aids that would enable wearers to converse with the people around them seamlessly and efficiently.
Image source:

Speech perception in crowded environments is challenging for hearing-impaired listeners. Assistive hearing devices cannot lower interfering speakers without knowing which speaker the listener is focusing on. One possible solution is auditory attention decoding in which the brainwaves of listeners are compared with sound sources to determine the attended source, which can then be amplified to facilitate hearing. In realistic situations, however, only mixed audio is available. We utilize a novel speech separation algorithm to automatically separate speakers in mixed audio, with no need for the speakers to have prior training. Our results show that auditory attention decoding with automatically separated speakers is as accurate and fast as using clean speech sounds. The proposed method significantly improves the subjective and objective quality of the attended speaker. Our study addresses a major obstacle in actualization of auditory attention decoding that can assist hearing-impaired listeners and reduce listening effort for normal-hearing subjects (Source: Columbia University).

See also:

[News story] Columbia University A Voice in the Crowd: Experimental Brain-Controlled Hearing Aid Automatically Decodes, Identifies Who You Want to Hear

In the news:

The Guardian Scientists create mind-controlled hearing aid


App can detect acute otitis media with effusion (AOM)

Chan et al. developed a smartphone system to detect middle ear fluid that uses the microphone and speaker of a phone to emit sound and analyze its reflection (echo) from the eardrum. The smartphone system outperformed a commercial acoustic reflectometry system in detecting middle ear fluid in 98 pediatric patient ears, and the system could be easily operated by patient parents without formal medical training. This proof-of-concept screening tool could help aid in the diagnosis of ear infections. The full article is published in Science Translational Medicine.



The presence of middle ear fluid is a key diagnostic marker for two of the most common pediatric ear diseases: acute otitis media and otitis media with effusion. We present an accessible solution that uses speakers and microphones within existing smartphones to detect middle ear fluid by assessing eardrum mobility. We conducted a clinical study on 98 patient ears at a pediatric surgical center. Using leave-one-out cross-validation to estimate performance on unseen data, we obtained an area under the curve (AUC) of 0.898 for the smartphone-based machine learning algorithm. In comparison, commercial acoustic reflectometry, which requires custom hardware, achieved an AUC of 0.776. Furthermore, we achieved 85% sensitivity and 82% specificity, comparable to published performance measures for tympanometry and pneumatic otoscopy. Similar results were obtained when testing across multiple smartphone platforms. Parents of pediatric patients (n = 25 ears) demonstrated similar performance to trained clinicians when using the smartphone-based system. These results demonstrate the potential for a smartphone to be a low-barrier and effective screening tool for detecting the presence of middle ear fluid.

A copy of this article is available to Rotherham NHS staff, contact the Library 

In the news:

OnMedica Smartphone app can detect fluid in middle ear