How Tamsin’s 2020 challenges led to a British Empire Medal in 2021
There’s a whole industry built around innovation and how to be an innovator, but what they don’t tell you is that innovation often happens almost accidentally – as Dr Tamsin Brown found when her glue ear device was adopted by surgeons at Addenbrooke’s Hospital who couldn’t hear very well through all the PPE they have to wear.
Tamsin, who was awarded a British Empire Medal in this year’s New Year Honours list, upgraded the hear glue ear app – which bypasses the ear drum and uses on bone conduction and a pair of off-the-shelf headphones – when grommet operations were cancelled last year.
“What it meant during 2020 is that children didn’t have access to services, and the app became quite a good resource,” explains Tamsin. “Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity: he app was alllowing parents to have an idea of what their child’s hearing is like, so I though: ‘We can make it better’, and got some funding from NHS charities and Cambrigeshire Community Foundation, the app developer prioritised it and made it better, so now it has a better screen, and a ‘What to do in the pandemic’ section. It also gives information about how to access services during the pandemic and a care plan to help families self-manage.”
Tamsin, a community paediatrician at Cambridge Community Services NHS Trust, was originally inspired to improve the quality of life for glue ear sufferers when her daughter Lilac developed hearing difficulties. The enhancements were partly born out of hearing stories of desperation.
“For all of you whose children can’t hear very well, we can send the kit remotely and you can study remotely,” she says. “The families were really desperate for something, the children had new situations to cope with online, and lip-reading with masks, and socialising online as well. The kit was very valuable to them, and then some surgeons at Addenbrooke’s said would they be able to use it. ‘We can’t hear because of the PPE,‘ they said.
“So I was finding them as well. There’s a lot of people who experience hearing loss, around five per cent of the population, and it becomes more difficult with the PPE, so there’s lots more people struggling.”
Tamsin say her British Empire Medal was more of a group effort.
“Any award is literally everybody’s,” she says. “Really everyone deserved a medal. This is just a good way to demonstrate the benefits of a working collaboration, I didn’t deserve it more than anyone else.
“I feel like everybody has put in tons of effort over the Covid period.”
Like everybody else, Tamsin is hoping for better days.
“All last year’s parties, let’s hope one day we have them all.”
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