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Do Advances in Hearing Aid Technology Recognise the Needs of the Consumer?

Part of a series of posted versions of articles I have written about hearing aids. This one appeared online in 2019, on HVY Journalists here.

The world for people with hearing loss has not changed to a great degree over decades, despite advances in technology such as technology and home sound equipment. Hearing aid provision, particularly by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service is determined by the use of a supplier with a monopoly on Behind the Ear (BTE) hearing aids, which do not benefit the wearer and can in fact be uncomfortable and distort the sound of the world around them.

The information even says that the smallest hearing aids – like many of the most effective hearing aids these are not powerful enough to assist with severe hearing loss – this piece states that Completely In the Canal (CIC) hearing aids, “are quite fiddly and some can only be put in and taken out by a hearing aid specialist” according to the NHS audiology department.

To a hearing aid wearer, the above is of little use as sleeping in a hearing aid is uncomfortable and ears tend to gather wax to deal with alien items in the canal. From a look at the misinformation – or maybe partial ignorance due to lack of first hand personal experience – expressed on the National Health Service’s page about hearing aids, this article in the Guardian newspaper from 2012 still describes the state of hearing aid provision today in 2019. The link to the implementation guide mentioned is now extinct.

People with hearing loss have not been actively recruited into hearing aid provision and courses, such as this one at University College London, require two years clinical experience or a ‘relevant’ honours degree in a British university. This course also requires substantial financial investment, the total cost of which is described but not shown.

People with severe hearing loss have a higher mountain to climb to Hear the World than those with mild to moderate hearing loss, who can attain access to the spoken and audio world around them much more effectively and cheaper than companies and the NHS, which provide hearing aids would have you believe.

By way of no information for customers and an insufficiently qualified patient-to-doctor style relationship of imposed dependence for the hard of hearing on the knowledge – or lack thereof – of the hearing aid dispenser, the hearing aid industry still targets and even sometimes exploit a predominantly older customer base for profit rather than for the benefit of the user.

The performance of the whole industry has not improved in any way in relation to advances in all types of sound technology. Imagine going to the NHS for a pair of glasses and being given mirrors and a magnifying glass. That is the level of hearing assistance almost proudly announced on the NHS website.

Moving into the private market, very few hearing aid dispensers have the first hand experience to know that people with hearing loss primarily what is being said to them and yet the test to gauge hearing loss does not test clarify of speaking, which falls in the middle sound frequencies and is often drowned out by higher and lower frequency sounds to make hearing someone speak in a noisy room impossible for most people, especially those who are hard of hearing. The other important information to know is, common sense really, that an ear rejects anything which seems alien to it and wax builds up, making hearing even more difficult.

A trip to Specsavers, who entered the hearing aid market in the previous decade, or Boots Hearing Centres will provide you with no more product awareness or hearing aid information than the NHS or even Deafness charities. The financial motivation is just not there for hearing aid manufacturers to want to match their customers with the best help they can provide. Instead they sell extremely expensive hearing aids that are not comfortable to wear and do not provide the best access to the hearing world around you.

When you walk into your local electrical store to find new home entertainment or stereo equipment and being presented with a wind-up gramophone with a digital chip in the needle, connected by a lead to a small speaker. You would probably not be able to hear the record playing over the sound of someone hoovering the aisles of the shop. Until the turn of the millennium, you would still be able to get a gramophone with an analogue trumpet, in hearing aid comparison terms.

Despite the lack of product information given to potential hearing aid customers, charities and the NHS still put the onus squarely on the consumer, not the lack of verified product information they provide. This has not changed in decades, as the Action On Hearing Loss websites illustrates, saying that 30-40% of those who could benefit from hearing aids actually have them. They do not mention that 90% of those with hearing aids that are not right for them do not wear them, despite spending hundreds of pounds on them. The writing doesn’t even address the customer but talks about them in the third person as if to an imaginary carer. The home stereo equipment is like:

Everyone who buys one of our new digital gramophone’s today will be able to actually play a record rather than just attaching them to a wall. Only 20% of vinyl owners have tried one of our latest range of wind-up gramophones and they would enjoy more music if they bought one.

Various companies that provide hearing aids are still in operation and they might have a shop on the high street, but you are likely to be treated like a patient visiting their doctor, not a paying customer. Used to dealing with elderly people who call a number advertised in their newspaper or a pamphlet, the hearing aid industry does not “read the room” in general, when it comes to an inquiry from a young adult with hearing loss who wants to join in the banter at work and be able to chat in the pub with everyone else.

The process will be to wait until they want to acknowledge you, then after booking a hearing test to be shown the most expensive and not most effective aids by someone who doesn’t really know or care how they work, which you then pay 4 or 5 times more for than a pair of seeing glasses and wait as many times longer for the hearing aids. Along the way, your ear will probably need to be cleared of wax for the hearing aid mould to be made, extending the wait. This is reminiscent of waiting extra long for a set of holiday snaps to be printed to perhaps discover that the lens cap had been left on for half of the ones that were not in focus. 

However, in countries that value communication a little more than in the United Kingdom, such as Spain and Ireland, hearing aid centres exist right alongside opticians, as this article in the hearing aid trade magazine ENT News illustrates. Until the late 1980s, the NHS had the monopoly on seeing glasses provision until the market was deregulated and there are now at least a handful of places to get your eyesight corrected on every high street, and the products are clearly displayed. Although Specsavers and Boots have entered the hearing aid sector this millennium, few dispensers have ever needed a hearing aid themselves and so how can they understand what the customer wants?

Luckily, innovative hearing aid development companies have discovered what hearing aid wearers want by asking for feedback from people for feedback in the past. Some innovative companies have open sessions where potential customers can try the sound technology and feel of various hearing aids being developed.

As early as 1993, a hearing aid dispenser working for Hidden Hearing whose wife wore a hearing aid, recommended a “programmable” hearing aid as the best correction for moderate hearing loss. This is the difference between a pair of prescription spectacles compared to a magnifying glass and mirrors. Three decades ago, this hearing technology was the most advanced and expensive as most hearing aids at the time just made everything louder in the way reading glasses make everything close up larger. Up to 10 million people in the United Kingdom are estimated to benefit from a hearing aid and yet the penetration of the market has not changed, despite the reduced prices available through digital technology.

The evidence has been shown that price and size of aid do not compare with being able to hear what people are saying to you and around you, with natural sounds such as leaves rustling or cars driving past or even music at a party in the background not drowning out speech. This does not mean, as does happen, that a hearing costing thousands of pounds is better than a “poppit” aid (a £50 earpiece to amplify sound, which is the equivalent of £2 reading glasses from the supermarket).

Firstly, here is a user’s guide, from first hand experience from someone with over fifty decibel (moderate) hearing loss, to give you a little more product information. On today’s market, hearing aids are all digital and programmable set to correct the hearing loss derived from a test for hearing a range of sound frequencies, not actual speech with realistic noise in the background, however sophisticated hearing aid dispensers can replicate these environments when you go to try your new aid for the first time for the variety of settings (phone Telecoil, directional, omni-directional, surround sound etc).

Behind the Ear (BTE) – This is the type of hearing aid provided free in the United Kingdom by the National Health Service. The manufacturer has provided these aids to the NHS for decades and has a monopoly on this, the largest, customer base and therefore no alternatives are provided. There is a plastic tube with a little speaker in the ear, while the sound is picked up from a microphone that sits outside the ear entirely, which means that you might hear the conversation behind you and not those you are speaking to. We may as well never have developed ear lobes to sort the sound we need to hear at all. The ear also reacts to this plastic insertion as it is expected to and builds up with wax, making it difficult to wear for very long. The industry’s excuse is that hearing aids take some time to adjust to, which is simply untrue and comes from someone who has never ever listened through a hearing aid.

In The Ear – this in itself works fine as the sound is collected within the ear lobes, making sound more natural that if it is fed in from a microphone outside the ear. However, this hearing aid needs to be programmed to correct the wearer’s actual hearing loss and to benefit from both a telecoil (for the phone, supermarkets, shops and theatres with loop systems). Unfortunately both directional microphones, telecoils and loop systems worked better with analogue technology, although that was not powerful enough for those with moderate to severe hearing loss.

In the Canal – For most wearers, this is an ideal size for various reasons. One is that as they still cost over £500 for a basic, programmable hearing aid that sits in the canal, it doesn’t want to be so small that it can fly out of our fingers and get lost amongst stuff. To place this aid in the ear and remove it, this is the best size. Hearing aids require more features than can be applied to a smaller earpiece that provide vital wearing comfort and this aid has room for these and can be handled with ease.

Therefore, there is little point mentioning other styles of hearing aid at this point, so pictures in the gallery below give you a brief idea to recognise them when they are presented to you by a hearing aid dispenser. These are like selling someone a car stereo for their living room, totally not matched to the customer’s requirements.

For comfort so that the aid that lets you hear what is going on around you, the TV, chatter, socialising, the doorbell, the phone and on stage performance, a hearing aid cannot do what NHS hearing aids do, which is “box you in”. This is where the ear cannot breathe and therefore builds up more wax to defend itself from a perceived intrusion. Therefore you need to ensure your hearing aid dispenser includes an air vent that provides an open canal from inside the ear to the outside of the aid, so your ear can breathe.

As hearing aid companies just want to make as much money from the 30-40% of their potential customer base as possible, they will try to sell to your vanity. It is very important that a hearing aid is to hear, not to be invisible. For an entry level customer who has a limited budget, they will try and sell the cheapest hearing aids to make, perhaps even from the one supplier to the NHS.

Therefore, here is a guide to the various features that make a hearing aid do its job for someone with mild to significant (but not severe) hearing loss:

  1. In the Ear or In the Canal. The piece fits inside the ear so the sound to be heard has passed by the ear lobes before being amplified.
  2. Air ventilation. An air vent channel from outside to in, so the ear canal can breathe. Beware of badly designed aids with ear vents that do not extend all the way through.
  3. Directional microphone. This is a digital program setting on the hearing aid to focus the sound collection particularly on the area in front of you, to particularly help with conversations in noisy environments such as at parties.
  4. Telecoil. This is for the telephone or other hearing assistance systems, such as in shops and is best as a changeable setting, not automatic, as can be added to some hearing aids. We can select this option ourselves and do not need hearing aids to make decisions for us anymore than people want their wheelchairs to head to the shops when the fridge is out of milk.
  5. Volume dial. There is nothing worse than a piece of technology deciding for you how much you can hear.
  6. Programmable. This is now standard on most hearing aids, where the hearing test will provide a chart by which to set the hearing correction. However, hearing aid dispensers do not necessarily have experience of wearing a hearing aid, so to hear what people are saying, on TV, at work, in a bar, at home or on stage, high and low frequencies in our hearing loss do not need to be corrected as much as the softer frequencies in the middle range do, which is where human speech is found.

Anyone who has worn a hearing aid out to a restaurant and asked their companions to repeat everything when the chink of a knife on a plate drowns it out or their ear has become blocked and they are lip-reading to hear above the conversation on nearby tables or jumped at the sudden beep of a lorry reversing outside might want to know that, although the hearing aid market does so little to entice the other 60% of people who could benefit from a hearing aid, immediate, comfortable and sustainable hearing correction to give you access to work, life, love and play is available for just over £500. The more people that buy aids that work for them, this price will come down to be in line with a visit to the optician in the near future.

Hearing Aid Audiologists with First Hand Experience with hearing loss

Continuing my series of blogs containing articles I have written about hearing aids. This one is from 2007, which explains why 2008 is referred to in the future tense. Below is how the article appeared.

In the noisy and fast-paced city life of today even mild hearing loss could mean you are missing out unnecessarily on all sorts of interactions with other people from closest family to successful first impressions with prospective employers or a new romantic relationship.

The most surprising effect on my life from wearing hearing aids that allow me to hear normal speech going on around me without straining or lip reading is that I recognise myself if I see my reflection when out socialising as previously my face was screwed up in concentration and anticipation which made me look different and strange.

Of course finding out about hearing aids requires a visit to a hearing aid audiologist and these are not to be confused with the hearing aid salesmen who earned the hearing aid industry such a bad reputation for exploiting vulnerable people in their own homes. Hearing aid audiologists today are highly trained with a vast experience of human beings with varying degrees of hearing loss.

I interviewed three top London hearing aid audiologists: Pamela George at Hidden Hearing’s Baker Street outlet; Adam Shulberg from Cubex on New Cavendish Street, and Alan Aaronson, an independent with his hearing centre on Hoop Lane, Golders Green, who was responsible for fitting my life changing hearing aid in 1999.

Pamela George says that build up of wax in the ear can account for 10 decibels of lost hearing so seeing your GP or an ear nose throat (ENT) specialist is a useful first port of call. However the quickest way to find out if hearing aids can benefit you is to book a free hearing test appointment with Alan Aaronson in Golders Green, Hidden Hearing in Baker Street or Cubex in New Cavendish Street as Adam Shulberg says: “A hearing aid is only as good as the dispenser who fits it.”

Being able to hear well in different social and environmental settings as well as protecting your ears from damaging noise trauma are two benefits that hearing technology can provide. I am wearing a pair of hearing aids and my right ear is taking longer to get used to it as it produces more defensive wax as I haven’t worn one in my right ear before whereas my left ear took to the new aid immediately. The sound I am getting is extremely welcome though. Alan Aaronson says: “it takes from a few minutes, to a few weeks – depends on the type of hearing loss, the previous experience with an aid (or not), the type of aid, the way the aid has been programmed, venting and how adaptive to change the user is”.

Adam Shulberg says: “This varies depending on the individual. People who have never worn a hearing instrument before will take longer to adjust to the new sounds they are hearing and require more counselling; those who are experienced wearers will adapt faster. For new users we recommend wearing the hearing no more than a couple of hours a day initially and in quiet environments only, increasing by an hour each day. Within a week they are usually ready to experience the outside world. This will take more getting used to and again the level of technology will often determine how successful they cope with everyday situations.”

Pamela George describes her experience when a client tries hearing aids and hears through them for the first time: She says: “Your stomach melts. They stop frowning from straining to hear and it looks as if years have just fallen off them. Mr Patel who owns a shop in Liverpool Street brought an elderly Londoner to see me and he said ‘I can hear what you are saying to me’ when I put the hearing aids in and he stopped shouting.”

At the top end of the market there are hearing aids that are either unnoticeable such as Ion by Sonic Innovations which I am currently wearing or those designed to be seen such as Delta hearing aids by Oticon and the Phonak Audéo. Hearing aids such as these can be fitted immediately. Adam says: “long gone are the days when people try to cover up their hearing aids. Now people want to show them off.”

The wait time in the private provision of hearing aids is quick today. Aaronson says it takes a few days if you opt for ‘Express’ or from 7 to 10 days. Adam says: “Depending on the hearing loss, it is often possible to have a hearing aid fitted on the same day. For custom made in the ear models the waiting time is about about a week although 24 hours turnaround service is available at additional cost.”

Hearing aids vary greatly in price and the audiologist’s job is to recommend the best one to suit your lifestyle and hearing loss. I have mild to moderate hearing loss but actual speech was usually drowned out by other sounds which meant I couldn’t hear myself speaking and therefore I spoke very loudly, I asked people to repeat things which impeded the flow of conversation or I just missed out on information being passed around me and was laughed at when I pronounced words as they were written as I hadn’t heard them spoken. The social benefits I immediately received from the hearing aid Alan Aaronson fitted in 1999 were immediate and dramatic and since then I have totally corrected my slurred speech, can enjoy conversations, manage the volume of my voice and even speak and listen well in a room full of people chatting.

In 2008 legislation will be passed which makes it the employers’ responsibility to ensure workers’ hearing is not damaged by exposure to damaging noise in their work. Pamela says lasting damage can be prevented if it caught in time because there is a temporary threshold where the hairs in our ears have bent after exposure to excessively loud noise but they will stand up again. “After continual exposure the hairs responsible for high frequencies break off”. The solution is a sound attenuator can project musicians’ and DJs ears from high frequency hearing loss and tinnitus. Alan says these are: “custom built earplugs with special filters to allow the quality of sound to still penetrate and not get muffled.”

Do companies provide ear care for their employees as part of a benefits package? Adam says: “where there is a legal requirement for hearing impaired critical safety employees to comply with national standards. For example we work closely with many train companies whose guards’ and drivers’ hearing needs to be up to scratch.”   

If you think that you would be interested in experiencing what advanced hearing technology is available today then it would be safe to visit Alan Aaronson, Adam Shulberg or Pamela George as these reputable companies are very customer focused and spend a majority of their time fitting, repairing and servicing hearing aids. Alan says: “There are hearing aids in various price brackets from “standard” to “advanced” and I would explain the differences”.

Empowering Consumers with Product Knowledge about Hearing Aids

This is part of a series of articles I have written about hearing aids. The published work can be seen on my Scribd Page. This one is from 2008 and appeared in a regional London newspaper.

Have you experienced that feeling when you want to say something but are scared that you might make a fool of yourself? This could occur if you have been criticised many times or received negative experiences from people, or that you pick up other people’s emotions without realising and become the only person in the room who responds to them.

         Has this ever happened to you? Is this a familiar feeling that you first experienced in the classroom at school?  Perhaps you remember when a quiet spoken person seated at the back of the class piped up, the teacher replied and a whole discussion erupted in the room, but without hearing the original comment you cannot pick up the thread of conversation and get left out?

         I am sure these early experiences happened much more frequently then anyone admits as there is still a stigma attached to having less than perfect hearing.

         Due to the sophistication of our brains we learn at a young age to adapt and be able to follow the flow of conversation with even medium hearing loss, often via reading body language or acquiring the ability to lip read. Hearing loss is measured in decibels and accounts for the average level of hearing which is measured across frequencies from the highest pitched to very low sounds. Mild hearing loss starts at 25 decibels and severe hearing loss goes up to 95 decibel hearing loss before you reach deafness.

         I am not trying to sell you a hearing aid, but I am telling you that the one I bought changed my world instantly at the age of 30. I was also very lucky that I was told by an understanding hearing aid dispenser about hearing technology that would actually make a difference so I could ask for the right instrument that suited me and then bypassed the risks of being oversold something on my lack of knowledge. It is the knowledge that I have acquired that I would like to share with you.

         Firstly, go back to the examples I gave in the work meeting and the classroom and see if you recognise the experience.

         Secondly, do you find at parties that it is hard to make out what people are saying to you across a dinner table or in a crowded room and it gets frustrating as other people seem to be getting along fine?

         Thirdly, do you find you do not know what to do about it and don’t know where to start looking for answers or who you could trust to speak to about it? Have you looked on the Internet or called up a company and got the sense that they are trying to sell you something expensive that seems risky to buy because there are no guarantees that it will give the desired results?

         That is understandable.

         My fourth hearing aid was the first one that I could wear and not feel cut off from the world, disorientated and distracted by artificially amplified background noise. This hearing aid was analogue programmable In-The-Ear (ITE) with a manual directional microphone and Telecoil switch and it totally solved the difficulties I had at parties when I always ended up standing on my own because I had asked someone to repeat something so many times that they had eventually said: ‘I’m just going to the toilet, I’ll be back in a sec,’ never to see them again.

I now have a digital programmable in-the-canal (ITC) hearing aid with a directional microphone and Telecoil setting which I bought from the same dispenser, Alan Aaronson, as the previous successful one.

         One main point is both were value for money to me, costing just under £1,000 which is not expensive for a hearing aid as they can be priced at thousands of pounds each.

         The advantages it gave me were; being able to hear what people were saying in many situations in which previously I couldn’t; to be able to follow and join in group conversations, to enjoy myself at parties, to follow and participate in workshops and seminars, to complete customer transactions on the phone without having the phone slammed down on me, to pronounce words correctly and hear how people say things instead of trying to say it all from scratch myself and, very importantly, to have corrected my slurred speech (so I don’t get excluded from nightclubs). Having a hearing aid made me acceptable enough to be able to get a fixed salary in an office of people where I could be promoted and prove myself.

         You might already have all of that, but you might relate to some of these experiences. I have 50 decibel hearing loss which is half way between hearing and being deaf. However, now there are times at parties or in business meetings in loud environments when I am at an advantage over hearing people to follow what is going on and not be distracted by background noise!

         I get benefit and value from my hearing aid and it is comfortable and no one can see it as it sits in my ear canal. It is a programmable which means it is set to correct my own particular hearing loss and boost the volume of sounds that I want to hear such as human speech and not to amplify unwelcome and distracting noises like a lorry reversing or cutlery crashing on a plate. As it is programmed to my particular hearing pattern that means sound selection is orchestrated by my brain and not by the amplification, which makes the sound natural and the earpiece comfortable to the point I can’t feel it in my ear.

         My hearing aid is also digital and takes advantage of the superior sound quality now on offer, and digital hearing aids have more power than analogue ones.

         This information is useful as a purely digital hearing aid which is not programmable might give you excellent sound quality but it might take longer getting used to, especially in a behind the ear hearing aid as dispensed by the NHS.

         A very important point about hearing aids is that, like what you see or do not see, your brain actively selects what it wants to hear and people with severe hearing loss or lack of eyesight start to compensate. One way of doing this is your brain learns to anticipate what it thinks someone is likely to say and sometimes you hear something completely out of context which can be highly amusing.

         A programmable hearing aid whether it is digital or analogue is a prescription taken from your audiogram in the same way that spectacles or contact lenses are made to fit your eyeball shape and correct your eyesight. Unfortunately there are plenty of people selling hearing aids who do not know or tell you this and are happy to sell you a complicated piece of technology that is not customised to your requirements.

         Similar to Blair Hill in the book Think and Grow Rich by his father Napoleon Hill, a hearing aid can change someone’s world from one of struggle and exclusion to a new one filled with opportunity.

         If you have any sense that your hearing is not as good as it could be it is worth going to a high street shop where you can get a hearing test and see if you could benefit from a hearing aid. Currently, in Cornwall, free hearing aids are only given to those aged 55 and over. The most important thing to do then is to compare their answer with your own research from this article or from the Internet, books such as the one mentioned in the previous paragraph and via the websites of BUPA and via objective websites that provide information about hearing loss.

Here are some Internet references to get you going. If you don’t think so already, I promise you that hearing is an interesting subject for us all and it might be useful information for yourself or for a friend or family member and you can make a big difference by finding out more about it.

Hearing Aid Resource for Consumers – Ear Info

Starkey – Find the Best Hearing Aid For You – the story of Starkey, a hearing aid company started by a man with hearing loss.

RNID – Facts and Figures about Hearing Aids

About Dr Ross, a hearing aid wearer of over 50 years and writer – Hearing Research

3 now obsolete resources (great domain names) http://www.hearinghealth.com – like HearingResearch.com and http://www.thehearingaidcouncil.org.uk

Resources for Coming To Visit Me in Falmouth

With everything going on, thought I would share some resources for coming to visit.

Here are the resources, at your fingertips, for where to stay, how to book, how to get here and who else is coming from the same direction to team up and have a memorable journey down to Cornwall and back.

Travel
Rail – London Paddington to Falmouth via Truro. The train that gets you to Falmouth (Docks, Town and Penmere Stations within walking distance or £4.20 cab ride – numbers below) is Great Western Railway. Significant stops on the way include Reading with a connection to South West Trains, which run to Gatwick Airport.

Rail – Guildford Surrey to Falmouth via Truro. If you are coming from Surrey, the train journey can be booked via GWR and the train goes from Guildford, change at Reading then down to Cornwall. 

AirBritish Airways now fly from Heathrow to Newquay Airport. Newquay is approx £50 taxi ride (see cab firms below) and ideal to share with others travelling. I will connect those travelling from the same place via RSPV.  Cheapflights provide various options and pricing.

Right now, flights for that weekend are in the £20-£30 region

Bus – National Express do coaches to Falmouth.

BusMegabus do trips to Falmouth. Bookings available up to 12 November right now.

Carshare – I have friends driving down from South East, London and Nottingham. If you would like to share petrol, please get in touch and say so ASAP.  There is also the Pasty Connection App to request and offer lifts if you prefer.

Combination travel – today, you can fly down by plane, share a taxi to Falmouth and go back by carshare or bus or vice versa. I will create a WhatsApp Group of everyone coming so travel arrangements or even accommodation shares can be arranged.

Accommodation

Self – Catering via Airbnb is ideal for off-season accommodation in Falmouth. See below for screengrab for a search for 11th – 14th December. One of the most beautiful, central buildings in Falmouth for 4 people for £99 a month. If you RSVP quickly and are happy to share with others, Falmouth is full of off-season luxury accommodation on AirBnB.

Families – I recommend finding a self-catering.

A search for that weekend brings up excellent options for those sharing.

Or staying in one of Falmouth’s best hotels.

For that weekend, all Falmouths top hotels have rooms for 2 people at around £100 a night with breakfast.

Bed and Breakfasts

It looks as if smaller properties are not opening until April 2021. Therefore, laterooms for Falmouth’s big hotels or AirBnB for self-catering are best options.

Children – are welcome

Bring your family dog(s) if accommodation allows (four-legged, not scaled or winged please) are welcome

Or – just an idea – you could rent a camper van to drive down, stay in and go home.  Camptoo rent camper vans from private owners.

If the UK Government Put Public Interests First We Might Have Averted Disaster

Boris Johnson’s Government’s focus seems to have been on big corporation interests from the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, thinking they could “flatten the curve” after contact tracing and quarantining had been dropped.  After John Newton predicted a million cases, the government abandoned its contact tracing in favour of a 3-4 month national lockdown. Could this have been averted if public interests had come before capitalism?

Yes, some things have worked for some people or companies, particularly large retailers and social media, who have executed an unnerving level of censorship over information being shared across their platforms. Social media has profited at the expense of the print media, which has maintained its editorial standards, while much of its revenue is syphoned by Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Over the last decade, there has been an upturn in excess deaths from respiratory diseases. In 2018, The BMJ Lancet Rapid Response says:

“So the government are now apparent not only blaming fluctuations in winter mortality on flu but all excess winter mortality on flu, to the tune of more than 50,000 deaths.”

Meanwhile, in April 2016, The Guardian says:

The failure to provide an effective flu vaccine last year may have contributed to the largest rise in deaths in England and Wales for 12 years, the government’s public health agency has admitted.

Then in 2018, the Guardian report another sharp rise and publish this graph by Public Health England.

Here is the Office of National Statistics report from November 2015 blaming the rise in the virulence of that season’s flu. This suggests to me that, while novel coronaviruses from bats and civets were being reported widely and detected, as amongst adults out and about in Paris and New York in 2016, the British government wanted to blame it all on flu without any wider research or further discussion.

We have had plenty of warning about coronaviruses. See this from a medical journal in 2007:

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus (SARS-CoV) is a novel virus that caused the first major pandemic of the new millennium (, , ). The rapid economic growth in southern China has led to an increasing demand for animal proteins including those from exotic game food animals such as civets. Large numbers and varieties of these wild game mammals in overcrowded cages and the lack of biosecurity measures in wet markets allowed the jumping of this novel virus from animals to human (, ). Its capacity for human-to-human transmission, the lack of awareness in hospital infection control, and international air travel facilitated the rapid global dissemination of this agent. Over 8,000 people were affected, with a crude fatality rate of 10%. The acute and dramatic impact on health care systems, economies, and societies of affected countries within just a few months of early 2003 was unparalleled since the last plague.”

Sound familiar? Yet, when SARS-COV-1 started transmitting, with a death rate of 10%, there was no response such as we have experienced with COVID-19. Most importantly, these previous outbreaks have been controlled, managed, reported and advised by qualified medical professionals.

How is it that since SARS-COV-1 emerged from bats and civets in wet markets in early 2002 and is still transmitting over a decade later, that COVID-19 managed to hold off until 2020? I’m not suggesting anything at all. I do genuinely want to know. I wonder if the virus mutated to spread more successfully by becoming milder so that infected persons spread it via surfaces without realising for the long gestation period of up to 14 days or occasionally more?

Respiratory viruses including coronaviruses have been circulating for a decade
Image links to article on PLOS. Visseaux B, Burdet C, Voiriot G, Lescure F-X, Chougar T, Brugière O, et al. (2017) Prevalence of respiratory viruses among adults, by season, age, respiratory tract region and type of medical unit in Paris, France, from 2011 to 2016. PLoS ONE

Since the turn of the millennium we have had MERS, SARS and Ebola, but there are at least 7 coronaviruses circulating at present. This is how the BBC reported the new SARS-like coronavirus in 2013.

“No general virus spread has been reported meaning the risk to the public remains very low.”

How do they know what wasn’t reported? What if people thought they just had a heavy cold? In 2013, MERS-COV caused concern about a global pandemic when it reached and transmitted within families in the UK. This Guardian article from the time provides more info.

The biggest difference between SARS-COV-1 and MERS-COV is that they are more deadly than COVID-19.

In 2007, The National Center for Biotechnology Information provided this graph showing various human coronaviruses amongst related viruses.

The The National Center for Biotechnology Information – Coronavirus graph from 2007 – SARS

This graph was updated once MERS had emerged in 2013.

MERS-COV amongst its virus family in 2013

In 1665, the horse and cart was the fastest transport, no phones, no internet, no hospitals, no anti-biotics, no sanitation, penicillin, hygiene or tested treatments.  Yet, when a virus started to spread, people took meetings outside, socially distanced, stopped touching each other and stayed at home to the point of locking the whole family in, whether infected or not. As a result, those with immunity in infected households starved to death. The plague has not been a pandemic in the UK since the last Great Plague. The story of personal sacrifice in Eyam in the Peak District to stop transmission once it had reached the village in clothing from London shows core measures that stop contagion spread.

Amazingly, on 2nd January 2018, The Journal of Infectious Diseases publishes a paper called: “Asymptomatic Summertime Shedding of Respiratory Viruses

The Journal of Infectious Diseases Paper says how the swab tests on asymptomatic adults in New York in the spring of 2016 showed that: “These findings indicate that significant levels of asymptomatic respiratory viral shedding exist during summer among the ambulatory adult population.” The highest detection of viruses was coronaviruses at 21.5%  of those detected. That was 2016. Where were those test kits in 2020?

So coronaviruses are not new. Why did we respond to COVID-19 like this when we see how they have been spreading around New York and Paris as reported, but also in the UK where we all expect to have a cold or two a year and might not think it was serious if we are healthy. The shortness of breath has been around with previous respiratory coronaviruses.

How has the relationship between politicians and big corporations, particularly technology, processed food, large retailers and pharmaceutical companies changed the fortunes of our various nations? Is our runaway capitalist system the instigator of a censorship, dictatorship, totalitarian, central, corrupt and manipulative system, a return to the inequality, racism and divided society of over a century ago?

Back to the UK government’s COVID-19 response.

At first it seemed to be under control. Narratives about it being new and people having no immunity have been heard before. Lines of transmission were well known. When talk about vaccines and ‘flattening the curve’ started to be discussed, it became ominous. Why were politicians leading this conversation, not scientists or hospitals? Why was money being pumped into pharmaceuticals when vaccines for coronaviruses have been sought for over 50 years?

What did they think we could do differently in 2020? In February, people returning from Wuhan were sent to quarantine. Contacts were traced, cases were reported, hotspots overseas were identified and people were warned. Today, viruses are more likely to arrive by airplane than by boat. As an island, the UK had an advantage over mainland Europe.  We could stop the spread, simply by quarantining people for 14 days when they arrived in the UK. They did this at the beginning. It was working so why did they stop?

Professor John Newton of Public Health England was made Chief Testing Officer. This is the man responsible for justifying food and drink industry input into public health advice on diet to create the Eatwell Guide. Despite rises in respiratory viruses (4th biggest cause of pre-mature death in UK and costs the NHS a fortune), obesity, Type 2 diabetes and the huge loss of productivity to business from sickness. That man is fucking good at his job. In charge of alcohol he created Drinkaware, working with companies selling – guess what – alcohol. In charge of smoking, he lent an ear to tobacco and medication companies and actively said that unassisted cessation to smoking was the least successful method behind vaping or prescribed medicine. So why not give him more public health responsibility as he is that good for capitalism?

Yes, say the government and put him in charge of COVID-19 testing. What happens?

The Government was forced to abandon its contact tracing system after experts forecasted it would face a million cases of coronavirus, according to the UK’s testing chief. (Professor John Newton). 

Sorry,  A MILLION CASES? So we went into lockdown because Professor John Newton PREDICTED there would be a MILLION cases of coronaviruses and to abandon its contact tracing system. Do you remember Professor Neil Ferguson? He took responsibility for his ‘predictions’ as this BBC article shows.

Prof Neil Ferguson has quit as a government adviser on coronavirus after admitting an “error of judgement”.

Can you believe this? Look at where we are now.  When? In March? Could they not have carried on until they couldn’t manage any more? In all of this, almost no one knows the name Professor John Newton. On Twitter it is only one who lived 200 years ago and me pissing in the wind trying to attract attention to this man’s actions, which come up on Twitter. Has he organised content suppression? One of the few mentions of this cataclysmic event in February is here on Politics Home.

Then, why did Public Health England stand down the 5,000 trained track and tracers linked to regional NHS trusts and only have 300 of their own?

Does this sound familiar at all? Why do we have people like Matt Hancock and John Newton advising the government, not Tracy Daszkiewicz who worked solidly for a year to decontaminate Salisbury? Novichok didn’t show symptoms when it was put on the Skripals’ front door handle. Tracy Daszkiewicz and her team had to destroy cars, trace contacts, evacuate buildings and lockdown Salisbury but they had regular public meetings and kept the local community informed throughout. The UK government have run their COVID response centrally from Downing Street with secret meetings and without a senior experienced medical scientist in their SAGE group. Meanwhile a group of scientists from different disciplines has answered public questions and broadcast live every week on YouTube. 

For example, social media is not constrained by the same laws as print media. Twitter manipulates users to either see pornographic videos in their newsfeed, until they discover how to switch off ‘sensitive materials’, which means all manner of innocent and harmless media is hidden from view.

A noisy Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma – I call it noisy as there is an exhausting and tense audio soundtrack competing with dialogue almost through out – shows how social media sets out to manipulate everyone by any means for profit.

We have seen how elections have been swayed by social media manipulation and people such as Dominic Cummings, who sent Tory whips around to ask MPs to gaslight people questioning his lockdown breakout. Why didn’t Cummings choose to be upfront and transparent and say ‘my wife and I have suspected COVID and I need to take our child to safety?’ It was assumed after the event that everyone should understand this need to protect a child. How safe was that child travelling in a car with an infected parent?

We have had various outbreaks of coronaviruses and warnings about changes to wet markets in China due to increasing demand for animal protein, game and even wild animals. In 2004, the Lancet declared wet markets as a continuing source of severe acute respiratory syndrome and influenza. 

COVID-19 could have been prevented from transmitting if government had put public health first – Image by Syaibatul Hamdi from Pixabay – “Vanguard”

COVID-19 is not new and did not come out of the blue. We were well warned.

Even though the UK is an island and people were contact traced and quarantined at the beginning, it seemed our government saw an opportunity, or big corporations saw an opportunity to manipulate people on a global scale for profit, control and power.

This Forbes article looks at the difference in leadership between male and females. It says:

Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, stood up early and calmly told her countrymen that this was a serious bug that would infect up to 70% of the population

If Professor John Newton had not advised the government to abandon contact tracing, if local NHS trusts had been allowed to contact trace new cases by phone or even door to door, if all people flying into the UK had quarantined for 2 weeks, if people had worn masks from the outset when in confined indoor spaces such as at work or on public transport, if money had gone to the NHS to use as needed to be fully staffed and equipped with protective equipment, had the C-19 symptom tracker app been used by the whole of the UK and all NHS services to share data with government and healthcare, if independent businesses had been used for equipment and not expensive contracts handed out to companies without proper tender processes, would the whole world be in a much better place?

Even Trump wouldn’t have caught COVID-19. The government could have prevented the disaster to the nation, the world and the global economy if they had just put people before profit. Governments should be support networks, not nagging parents.

Social Enterprise Ideas – customer feedback

Here are some of my ideas – please help yourself if you like one – as writing them down is a good way to formulate them.

No. 1 Speak4Yourself.com – it has come of age with today’s IT

Between 1998 and 2003, I worked for a publishing company, which published business to business magazines and I went to various IT and mobile communications trade shows, which inspired some ideas.

Only now, the technology is ripe to put some of these into existence.

Replace Unpopular Market Research and Customer Satisfaction Surveys.

An income stream can also come from a section of the website generated by customer centric companies that want to proactively crowdsource ways to improve. This would require funding from the company and Speak4Yourself would work with the company to set the parameters to ask the companies. Customers would win points and be rewarded for participating in these campaigns (like market research could have done) and the resulting feedback would be presented to show the company had asked its customers for impartial feedback. The feedback would be anonymous, which would differentiate these pages from the customer originated ones. This would aim to replace annoying and time consuming customer satisfaction surveys that companies email out to try to look like they care but not actually listen and steal customers time without an expected time requirement.

Justification

Feedback is “take it or leave it” therefore companies cannot be forced to listen to their customers. Often they see themselves only from their point of view, which is polar opposite to how, particularly, a new customer sees them. Speak4Yourself aims to entice and motivate companies to listen to their customer feedback by gathering it together by area of focus, by creating a glossary of terms so customer and company are speaking the same language and by providing relevant and focused questions for customers to answer according to the area of focus.

The website would need to be a shining example, itself, of what it provides to companies. Some companies do not seem to be focused on their main offering. It seems they do not have a good enough profit margin by doing what they do alone. They resort instead to cost cutting, price increases, laying people off or removing funding from areas of the business, often to keep their shareholders happy.

Speak4Yourself will also provide them with a “Customer Centred” style badge and can improve their dialogue with customers, ease their call centre burden, reduce their running costs (particularly their spend on annoying market research or focus groups) and improve their public image, helping them potentially become more sustainable and perhaps even improve their marketshare and shareholder value. Coupled with that, they can provide testimonials about better processing organic customer feedback to tell customers they are listening and therefore more pleasant to use then their competition.

Company Feedback

My original idea was a One Stop Shop for company feedback, in the way that Last Minute.com was a one stop shop for spontaneous travel deals.

Speak4Yourself.com started as a website, which at the time had to be manned, but now it could propel itself.

Adverts would tell people that all feedback, complaints and requests for compensation could be logged on Speak4Yourself.

The visitor to the website would be able to follow a clear road-map to where to put their feedback.

Once a month, a report would be sent to companies with a summary of feedback plus a few comments. That would have been very labour intensive. However, today, with websites such as Trip Advisor, Feefo and Trust Pilot in existence, a whole app could be created, whereby a company can go and look at their feedback whenever they like.

The principle is that Feedback is “take it or leave it” and, like individuals, companies are not always very good at meeting, responding to and processing feedback.

That is where Speak4Yourself comes in.

In the original idea, a visitor would follow a road map to where to put their feedback, from a category, a more specific category through to the company name itself. Then they would be able to write whatever they liked.

The hard work would be done by the back office staff who would delve into each company and create a report to send them each month. This also required people searching for contacts to send these reports to and a sales team to follow up.

The idea was inspired by the amount of useless market research out there and the dismissive way companies met organic feedback when someone contacted them to give it.

During the 1990s, I wrote to various companies or had to make some complaints and I have a collection of very nice letters and was sent unexpected and unrequested feedback.

A friend of mine took it to another level and had a book published about how to make complaints and all the rewards she had earned in so doing.

Letters of a Dissatisfied Woman: The Fine Art of Complaining by Ingrid Stone

The aim of it was to help companies mine customer feedback for useful new ideas to implement without spending on market research. My idea was that customer feedback could be very valuable if harnessed correctly. It would also allow them to present themselves as “customer-centric”. Today, some of the most successful companies at using the customer experience to improve their products and services are amongst the most successful.

With current technology, here is what the Speak4YourSelf App would look like and how it would work for companies and customers.

Customer Crowdsourcing for Companies

Speak4Yourself is a one stop shop for complaints, comments, feedback and requests for compensation.

The website provides a mediator to provide customers with clear parameters to deliver their message to a company and get a better response.

After the first category, under which all supported companies would be sorted, there would be a feedback or complaint type. These would determine the answer options for each field. On the company’s feedback page, the replies would come under these sections:

What is your feedback about for example:
Website navigation
Store branch access
Website access
After service customer care
Live chat
Customer helpline agent
Social media interaction
Returns policy
Company contact information

There would be a clear signpost to how customers can suggest more areas of focus for which unique form parameters would be created.

Companies that ignore Speak4Yourself

On the flipside, companies that refuse to interact with the app will look even more remote, indifferent to their customers (business or end-user) and it could even highlight the companies that put their shareholders before their own employees and customers.

Speak4yourself allows a dialogue to open between a company representative, internal or contractor, and a customer. This would be very useful for political parties too.

Politics Crowdsourcing

Political campaigns could use it too.

Imagine if you didn’t know who to vote for and didn’t know who to ask.

Therefore, you go to Speak4Yourself.com to ask a political party a question.

You can navigate through a list of categories and under each one a menu of organisations. Therefore you select “Political Parties” then you select the one you want to ask.

A thoughtfully tailored form appears. This will be determined by the target organisation. See below for what the launch website would include and how it would get there.

You provide an email address and then are given options, in this case:

Ask a Question.

Each option triggers a relevant form. In this case, for example, asking a political party a question would post your question to a web page which the political party is sent access details to, so they can read and reply. This page was inspired by Trust Pilot.

Customer Feedback

The central aim of the website will be to open a dialogue between customers and companies they use or are trying to use. Twitter has made companies respond much better to customers as it their replies are public. Therefore, each company would have a webpage, where they can read and respond to their customers’ communications, which would be public and can be shared on social media and embedded on the company’s own website.

Many company websites assume customers are already familiar with their process and do not see themselves through the eyes of a first time customer. Therefore a category for “First Contact” would trigger this form:

Websites > “please enter the full URL” (customer gives the URL of the homepage they visited).

This would quickly take the customer to a form, which would provide the information on the company’s feedback page.

After providing an email address you would be asked

  1. Navigation (radio buttons for easy O OK O and difficult)
  2. Clearly signposted (radio buttons for easy O OK O and difficult)
  3. Price transparency (radio buttons for easy O OK O and difficult)
  4. Accessing relevant information ((radio buttons for easy O OK O and difficult)
  5. Funneling? (radio buttons for easy O OK O and difficult)
  6. Term matches (radio buttons for easy O OK O and difficult)

Of course, there would be a full glossary for “feedback terminology” which would become a whole new lexicography to help customers and companies speak in the same language. This is because, currently, a customer and company seemingly speak in 2 completely different languages. This leads companies to dismiss feedback and fob off customers, wasting valuable information. If a company dared reply with “you are the only person who seems to have this problem” then a Twitter hashtag can be created to help gather other customers who have had the same experience.

Setting up the Website – generic feedback.

Essentially, the website would be launched as a one stop shop for people to leave comments on a webpage, gathered via #companyname ie #Westernpowerdistribution

See TrustPilot’s homepage

Then see a company’s page. Here is Justpark’s page

I showed the Trust Pilot version above to show the difference between a mechanism for Reviews and Ratings and Customer Feedback. Feedback is when you want to open a dialogue with a company to get a response not just leave a public review.

Then, generic forms for customer feedback would be designed with fields to help the customer and company speak the same language.

ie JustPark (who I use) might have a page with the following information.

Justpark

Email address: ?

Website home page?

Homepage Funnel?

Clear signposting?

Process?

Navigation?

Pricing structure?

Check-out?

Confirmation?

Accessibility?

As I have written this, i now realise that the whole idea today is about customers helping companies they use make their websites easier to use as well as giving customer feedback. This is needed as so many companies still make it difficult for customers to contact them because they ask so many questions and identification, references, codes, IDs, PINs and passwords, often not providing entry formatting, having irrelevant forms or using different terms for the same thing, such as “booking ID” and “reference code” for the same thing.

For product or service feedback Speak4Yourself, there would be a set of radio button options, for instance:

Accessibility

Pricing

Customer Service

Interaction?

Navigation

Service or Product

Purchase Process?

Transparency?

followed by a restricted-length text field for a paragraph-lengthed comment

Neither the company nor the customer need reveal sensitive information during initial contact and response. If the customer is seeking compensation, for instance if a flight was cancelled, the comment that this happened and the reply would be public but then the interaction can continue behind closed doors. This would show how the company responds to customers.

There is always an averaging out over numbers of customers so if a company is attacked by trolls (the website would ask users to agree to a set of behaviour codes before being allowed beyond the landing page) they are able to contact Speak4Yourself by email to provide a link for the comment they have an issue with and the comment can be removed by discretion. Non-constructive criticism would be discouraged. Rageous customers would be gently redirected to Twitter or review and rating websites.

The policy “greet the customer as if they are right” would be the moto.

Press for Live Gig in Falmouth

Aardvark Records, which launched in 2001 with the new model of music business, now used by most independents, has signed Scott Lloyd who lives in Manchester and will be launching his first single Looking Out To Sea on 22nd June in Falmouth.

What’s On in Falmouth Packet on 30 May 2018

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Press publicity for Chris Purchase DVD recording

Thank you to the West Briton and Falmouth Packet for including the comedy night in their What’s On pages.

Falmouth Packet

West Briton

In Falmouth Packet What’s on section

 

In West Briton’s pick of the month

Recent press releases from Sweet Sound PR

Here’s an update on press releases in local newspapers for Cornwall based artists, comedians and events.

Here are a few of the latest ones:

New Pantheon Club at the Rugby Club – Falmouth Packet 31 March 2017

Old School Bar and Kitchen – Falmouth Packet 3 March 2017

Comedy Jam at Toast – Falmouth Packet 27 February 2017

Comedy Jam at Toast – Falmouth Packet 16 October 2016

Mishka Shubaly at Toast – Falmouth Packet 7 November 2016

Here are some cuttings that may have just been in print including Cirque Du Sille at the Poly in January, a gig in St Ives and more comedy events:

 

 

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