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September 2021

Kurt Ashworth jpeg
Kurt Ashworth

Robert Sainsbury jpeg

Robert Sainsbury

Ballarat benefits from cochlear implant program

The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital launched the Victorian Cochlear Implant Program (VCIP) to address the access gap in regional areas.

Fewer than 10 per cent of Victorians who could benefit from a cochlear implant actually have one.

A large factor contributing to this is limited access to cochlear implants in regional areas.

The VCIP program strengthens relationships and skills of audiologists and clinics across Victoria in referring patients for a cochlear implant, aiming to increase awareness and access to cochlear implant services for all Victorians, regardless of geographic location.

Ballarat Hearing Clinic became one of the first to join the training and support program, helping upskill its team to become better cochlear implant referrers and successfully identifying suitable local cochlear implant candidates.

Servicing Ararat, Stawell, St Arnaud and Donald, alongside the Ballarat community, Ballarat Hearing Clinic can now provide more accessible cochlear implant services and continuity of care to patients.

Audiologists Talia Pumpa and Kurt Ashworth are leading the way with cochlear services at Ballarat Hearing Clinic.

Mr Ashworth has been working at the clinic for 12 years.

‘The whole experience has been very collaborative.

‘I’ve really enjoyed the training and I can see the long term benefits for both audiologists and patients.

Before VCIP, the Ballarat Hearing Clinic referred around five patients to the Eye and Ear’s cochlear implant clinic per year.

Since VCIP, the clinic referred eight patients in three months with the first patient undergoing surgery at the end of June, 2021.

A common struggle among older Australians with hearing loss is withdrawing from family and social activities.

It is never too late to take control of your hearing and improve your quality of life, which is why more and more older Australians are now choosing a cochlear implant.

Mr Ashworth recently referred Robert Sainsbury, 89, for a cochlear implant in his left ear.

Mr Sainsbury moved to Ballarat from Melbourne in 2003 and Mr Ashworth has been his audiologist since.

‘I was surprised that I was eligible for a cochlear implant, as I didn’t think I would be at my age.

‘After Kurt did the tests and explained the process I was delighted and happy to take his advice as I trust him.

‘He never pressured me into making a decision either way, he just gave me all the information and explained everything in a way that was easy to understand.’

Fear of the unknown is prevalent in many patients eligible for a cochlear implant.

The reality of going back and forth to Melbourne for appointments is not only time consuming but also daunting.

During the first year of the cochlear implant process, instead of committing to about 12 visits to Melbourne for appointments at the Eye and Ear, VCIP patients are only required to travel to Melbourne for an ENT assessment and the surgery – if they chose to proceed – with the remainder conducted locally with their audiologist.

‘The process has been a breeze – all of my appointments have been booked in for me and everyone has been so kind and patient with me.

‘I couldn’t be happier,’ Mr Sainsbury said.

‘Being able to tell them they can have surgery in Melbourne and then come back and see me for the rest of the process has been a really appealing factor in a patient’s decision making,’ Mr Ashworth said.

‘In some cases, we’ve had a 10-year relationship and built great trust during this time.

‘So to be able to provide them with local care after their surgery is really rewarding.’

‘The thing I am looking forward to most when I have my cochlear implant switched on, is just general conversations with friends and family,’ Mr Sainsbury said.

‘And watching the TV with my family – they don’t like watching with me at the moment because I have to turn it up too loud.’

• For more information visit https://www.eyeandear.org.au/page/Health_Professionals/Referring_to_the_Eye_and_Ear/Victorian_Cochlear_Implant_Program/.