THE Bolton medical team, which changes the lives of hundreds of children with hearing problems, has gained official accreditation as one of the best in the country.

The Bolton NHS Foundation Trust Paediatric Audiology team, currently based at the Halliwell Health and Children’s Centre, has achieved accreditation from UKAS showing they have met the audiology service standards set by IQIPS (Improving Quality in Physiological Services).

This shows the service is providing patients who are deaf or have hearing loss with high-quality care. Bolton’s service is just one of 25 out of the 134 children’s audiology services in England to gain this quality mark.

While this is particularly reassuring for local children with hearing problems and their parents, it is also a cause for pride and a reflection of the level of excellence available locally.

The team comprises five audiologists, two doctors including Dr Veronica Kennedy, consultant in Audiovestibular Medicine, principal service lead Gill Edgington and a wider admin team for appointments and letters.

The accreditation comes after around 18 months of hard work by the audiology team, led by Gill Edgington, gathering information and evidence, and an inspection including assessments of the audiology practice in clinic.

This, though, was not just a testing one-off. All the best practices and procedures involved were already established and working here.

The children involved are aged from a few months to 19 years, many of them attending the service over many years. “There are now hearing tests at birth which can pick up problems,” explained Dr Kennedy.

This offers the team a chance for early intervention which can involve hearing aids. “Hearing starts developing at around four months in the womb,” stated Dr Kennedy. “The hearing and speech parts of a child’s brain develop most in the first couple of years so it’s really important that children who need hearing aids wear them from a young age.”

Hearing testing involves a mixture of sophisticated equipment combined with testing techniques which require specialist skills to engage a child’s attention and assess their hearing level. The atmosphere at the centre is kept light and friendly with pictures of super heroes and fun figures on the walls.

Hearing aids today are often small, bright and modern to appeal to children but it is not only the youngsters the audiology team has to persuade about use. Sometimes, it is the parents.

“Most parents we work with are really proactive about encouraging their child to wear hearing aids,” added Dr Kennedy. “A small number with hearing impaired children, however, either don’t see the need for their child to wear hearing aids or are reluctant to accept that their child has a hearing loss, perhaps seeing this loss as a stigma.”

Winter brings a glut of “glue ear” problems when colds and infections cause congestion in ear, nose and throat leading to impaired hearing.

One preventable modern problem, though, is noise-induced hearing loss. “This can result from children with mobile phones and tablets listening to their music too loudly,” stated Dr Kennedy. “Parents can actually set the phone’s level to an acceptable one to prevent this kind of damage.

“Ity’s also important to encourage the use of ear plugs in loud environments like music gigs.”

Young patient Tilly Bowles from Tonge Moor suffered hypoxia – oxygen deprivation – at birth which left her hearing impaired.

“Yes, it was upsetting,” said mum Katie Watkin, who has three other children. “But her birth was so traumatic, the deafness was almost a blessing because we thought she might have brain damage.”

Tilly started wearing hearing aids straight away, attending the audiology service regularly. She is now a lively seven-year-old, happy at Thomasson Memorial School.

She has two hearing aids, including a tiny radio aid which allows her to hear her teacher from anywhere in the classroom.

She always wears her aids and has never been held back by her deafness – “In fact, the deafness has made Tilly who she is,” said Katie.

“The audiology service here has been very supportive. If there is ever any kind of a problem, they’re always happy to help.”