The first NHS hearing aid

How the General Post Office helped to create the first NHS hearing aid 

This post is based on research carried out by Coreen McGuire and Sean McNally at the University of Leeds. The project is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and supervised by Professor Graeme Gooday and looks at the interaction between telecommunications and hearing loss. BT is a collaborative partner in the project along with Action on Hearing Loss and the Thackray Medical Museum.

Why is BT involved?

BT’s predecessor, the General Post Office (GPO) was responsible for the UK’s telecommunication networks.

BT still holds archive material for the GPO and is working with researchers to uncover the fascinating history of telecommunication technologies for those with hearing loss.

What has the project uncovered?

The telephone for deaf subscribers leafletFirst, early telephones were not powerful enough for those with severe hearing loss.

These individuals often found themselves excluded from this pioneering technology.

The GPO was receptive to the needs of these customers and sought to work with them to address the problem. The result was the first amplified telephone, Repeater 9A, which was developed from technology developed by the GPO for use in the trenches during the First World War.

The struggles of the Second World War worsened the conditions for those with hearing loss. In response, the Medical Research Council (MRC) commissioned a number of research projects.

This led to the development of a state-manufactured hearing aid.

At this time the GPO Research Station at Dollis Hill in London was undertaking pioneering research in telecommunications and was heavily involved in developing technologies to aid the war effort.

Despite this Post Office Engineers were able to lend their technical expertise to the hearing aid project.

What was the result?

Medresco hearing aidThe result of this project was the mass-produced ‘Medresco’ hearing aid which was issued free of charge by the NHS in 1948.

Over the course of the next three decades the Medresco provided auditory assistance to hundreds of thousands of people who had previously been excluded due to the prohibitive cost of commercial devices.

It would also prove influential overseas - the issue of NHS hearing aids free of charge was part of the inspiration for similar legislation in Denmark in the early 1950s.

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