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Private Hearing Aids vs NHS Hearing Aids. What’s the difference?

By: Paul Harrison Updated: 22nd November 2019 in: Latest News, Articles
Private Hearing Aids vs NHS Hearing Aids

Private Hearing Aids Vs NHS Hearing Aids. What’s the difference?

Firstly...

It is essential that you get any problems with your hearing checked out as soon as possible by your doctor. Even if you have already decided that you would prefer to buy hearing aids privately.  Your GP or Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist can check your ear health and spot any treatable causes of your hearing loss such as infection or illness.

Hearing tests are provided free on the NHS which can not only work out the level of your hearing loss, but also the cause behind it. Many private hearing aid dispensers also carry out free hearing tests but if you need treatment, you will need to see an ENT consultant.

A common dilemma most face, in this situation, is that due to the complexities, range and price of the industry – they become more confused and exasperated before they even seek help.  Perhaps due to lack of education or contradictory advice given along the way.  Whatever the reason, we advise that you receive help from your doctor first who will discuss the NHS service.  This is the first step into discovering what options are available to you, before opting to go private.  Like with most things in life, it is always good to have comparisons, as only then will you gain from a second opinion and have the confidence to make the right decision for your hearing loss.

Research* tells us that independent audiologists were rated 87%, by their patients, for the service they were provided, and the hearing aids purchased.  In our opinion, patients from independent practices tend to feel less like a ‘number’ and more valued and cared for.  They are offered honest and unbiased advice that is bespoke to them and their hearing healthcare. 

We understand that there are a few factors which may influence your decision on whether to get hearing aids privately or through the NHS - everyone is different and what may be suitable for one person may not be right for another. 

The waiting game

Once you have made the decision to go ahead with hearing aids, are you prepared to wait, or would you rather have them sooner? The time it takes to wait for a fitting and get the mould or hearing aid made can vary between the NHS and private dispensers.

A private company can usually see you much quicker, within a week or two, for the initial test and creating a mould. Depending on the style of hearing aid you choose you could wait between one and three weeks for your hearing aid to be fitted.

Whilst the NHS is reducing their waiting times, you could still wait around six weeks for your hearing test and a further six weeks for them to be fitted. This will vary depending on which part of the country you live in.

Style Revolutionised

Style is one of the major factors in choosing a hearing aid. Many people are put off getting hearing aids altogether because they remember hearing aids looking big, ugly and cumbersome.  Over the years, misconceptions and stigmas about hearing aids have faded – due to people receiving a better education and the topic being more ‘talked about’.  The main thing here is that the overall look and style of hearing aids has evolved and are now so discreet they are, in some cases, invisible.  People do not think twice when their eyesight dictates wearing glasses – in fact people wear them when they do not even need them!  A fashion statement of sorts.  Our attitudes have changed.

This may be due to modern, digital hearing aids being more discrete and much more powerful. The NHS provide Behind the Ear (BTE) styles, which have a small box behind the ear and a thin tube linking the box to the front of the ear. Whilst many hearing aids use ear moulds, others can have an open fitting where the tube sits just inside the ear canal without an ear mould. This style is more discrete and harder for others to see. It also lets air circulate within the ear canal. This style is suitable for mild to severe hearing loss.

Private hearing aid dispensers can offer the full range of hearing aids form Behind the Ear and Receiver in Canal styles which have a small case behind the ear, to styles which fit inside the ear canal and are nearly impossible to see. Other styles include full and half shell which fit in the outer ear.

These all offer great sound quality although not all the Invisible in Canal (IIC) styles are suitable for more severe hearing losses. You will also be able to choose from a wider range of colours, so that you can show off your hearing aid as an accessory or blend it with your hair and skin tone. 

A new age for technology

The NHS offers digital hearing aids which can be fine-tuned to your exact hearing loss. They have different program settings so that you can focus the microphones all around you or in front of you, making it easier to listen to people speaking when there is background noise. They also have a ‘t’ setting allowing you to use loop systems or Bluetooth sound streamers.

The range of technology on offer from private hearing aids can be overwhelming. They have a larger number of channels for sound processing and may have sound compression programs which alter the frequency of sound to bring it within your hearing range. More microphones offer more choice of where to focus your listening whilst others can give a surround sound effect. Other programmes include speech recognition to enhance conversations, telephone listening programs and features which assess your listening environment and find tune the hearing aids to give you better clarity.

Wireless technology allows two hearing aids to work together so they are always on the same settings and you can use a remote control to change your program. Some hearing aids are compatible with Apple devices and you can stream sound from your iPhone, iPod or iPad directly to your hearing aids.

Does it all come down to cost?

The major factor when choosing hearing aids is the cost. There is no cost for NHS hearing aids or for follow up appointments, when you need them adjusted.  You can get replacement batteries and tubing for free from your clinic, if you don’t want to go there, they can be posted to you. Any problems with your hearing aid, if due to normal wear and tear, will be sorted out without any extra cost. You will also get a new hearing aid when your current one reaches the end of its life, which is usually five or six years. 

What many people are unaware of is that the hearing aid you are provided with is only on loan and remains the property of the NHS. If it is lost or broken due to negligence you will be liable for the cost of replacement or repair.  Therefore, we advise that if you do go down the NHS route, you should organise insurance for the hearing aids.

The cost of private hearing aids can vary between a few hundred pounds and a few thousand pounds, depending on the style and model you choose.  The more programs and features that you want, the more expensive they will be. However even those at the cheaper end are still very powerful and effective.  It all varies depending on the wants and needs of your hearing loss – and what you, as an individual, want from your aids.  What will easily fit into your lifestyle?  What technology would you benefit from?  What hearing situation do you often find yourself in?  These are a few things you will need to ask yourself to determine the best hearing solution for you.

Find out what will be included in the cost of your hearing aids and be sure that you will use all the programs that you are paying for. Ask if the cost of follow up appointments is included if you need your settings changed. Find out about the cost of batteries and replacement tubing as well as any other equipment to keep your hearing aids working at their best.

In conclusion

Yes, the style of NHS hearing aids has altered over the years and now all hearing aids dispensed by the NHS are digital and include some level of technology.  However, this technology is just as limiting as the shape choices available to you.  We, at Hearing Aid UK, understand that buying a hearing aid is a reasonable investment.  But an investment that enriches our lives.

People are now acknowledging that hearing is important and that finding a hearing solution gives us the best quality of life – like wearing glasses.  There are innovative designs out there that promote style, positivity and open doors for hearing loss.  The way in which we talk, see and think about hearing aids has changed.   

It is an exciting age for hearing aid technology and design, offering us more options and accessibility than ever before.  Whether you choose to go with the NHS or private, finding the right hearing solution for your unique hearing loss is what is most important.

*Research provided and performed by Which?

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Paul Harrison
Hearing Aid Advisor
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