NHS or Private? - A guide to Hearing Loss

You have two choices when it comes to getting a hearing aid: the NHS or private. There are advantages and disadvantages to both and it is a case of weighing these up before making your decision.

But whichever route you choose your first step is to see your GP.

It’s a good idea to see him/her if you notice any problem with your hearing as well as asking about hearing aids. It may be the case that you have temporary form of hearing, as a result of an infection or excess ear wax which can easily be treated. Once this is treated then your hearing will return to normal.

But your hearing loss may be caused by an underlying problem which requires further investigation. If so then your GP can arrange this or refer you to a specialist if necessary. If you do require a hearing aid then he/she will refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, an audiologist (hearing specialist) or an audiology clinic which is part of a local health centre.

You will undergo a series of tests to find out the cause and extent of your hearing loss. The results of these will determine if you need a hearing aid and if so, what type. You will then need to attend an appointment for a hearing aid but be prepared to wait several weeks for this (unless you go private).

If you decide to ‘go private’ for your hearing aid then this doesn’t stop you from having a free NHS aid. However, the NHS can’t pay for your private hearing aid or for repairs if anything goes wrong.

NHS hearing aids

There are several types of hearing aid available on the NHS, which now includes digital hearing aids as well.

These include:

  • Bone conduction hearing aids (analogue only)
  • Body-worn hearing aids (analogue only)
  • Behind the ear hearing aids

The behind the ear hearing aids are available as both digital and analogue. The only type of digital hearing aid available via the NHS is the behind the ear aid.

If you have never had an NHS hearing aid then you will probably be offered a digital hearing aid.

If you already have an analogue NHS hearing aid then you will be offered a digital one when you are re-assessed.

You can also get batteries, ear moulds, repairs and tubing on the NHS and for free. Hearing aids tend to last around five years. If you break or damage it in that time then you will have to pay towards the cost of repair or a new one.

How to get a hearing aid on the NHS

An appointment will have been made for you with the hearing specialist who will take an impression of your ear for the ear mould. This means that the ear mould will fit exactly to the shape of your ear. It will take a few weeks to make the ear mould.

Once this is ready you then return for the fitting. The specialist will adjust the hearing aid to suit your type of hearing loss and will explain how to use it. He/she will also show you how to care for it.

You will have a follow up appointment after three months to check on your progress.

There are types of digital hearing aids which are NOT available on the NHS and these include:

  • In the canal hearing aids (ITC)
  • Completely in the ear canal hearing aids (CITC)
  • In the ear hearing aids (ITE)
  • Over the ear hearing aids (OTE)
  • Receiver in the canal hearing aids (RIC)

If you’d prefer, you can choose to buy a hearing aid from a private clinic or dispenser. If you do then make sure that they are registered with the Hearing Aid Council. Your GP will have details of local clinics as will the RNID website.

Private hearing aids

You will have a greater choice of hearing aids but you do have to pay for these. Plus digital hearing aids are much more costly then analogue ones.

There are pros and cons of buying a hearing aid privately, as there are with getting one from the NHS. You have to weigh these up as well as comparing them against the option of having a hearing aid on the NHS, before making a decision.

If you know of anyone who has purchased a hearing aid from a private dispenser then ask them for the name of this place. Equally, your GP can recommend a suitable dispenser.

The RNID website has a phone number for their information line and this can help you to find a dispenser, but they cannot recommend one in particular.

Advantages of a private hearing aid

These include:
  • Greater range of hearing aid styles than the NHS
  • Private dispenser will stock the very small hearing aids
  • Short waiting times
  • You can probably get a hearing aid after three weeks

If you opt to buy a hearing aid from a private dispenser then the costs can range from £300 up to £2,500. If you require two hearing aids then this will, of course be more expensive. But some dispensers may offer a discount if you buy two hearing aids.

It’s a good idea to have a few dispensers to visit so that you can compare prices and services. Make sure that a private dispenser is registered with the Hearing Aid Council. This professional accreditation is a sign that they are reputable and suitable qualified.

Ask about the cost of a hearing aid, replacement hearing aid, repairs and hearing tests.

Disadvantages of a private hearing aid

There are disadvantages as well which include:

  • Digital hearing aids cost more than an analogue model.
  • Hearing aids can cost as much as up to £2,500.
  • You will have to pay for any repairs once the guarantee expires.
  • You might have to pay for further appointments.

If you have private medical insurance then check with your provider to see if this is covered in your policy.

And talking of insurance, it might be wise to insure your hearing aid against damage or theft.

Buying a hearing aid from abroad

You do have the option of buying a hearing aid from abroad but think carefully before you do. It can be tempting as many types of hearing aid are cheaper than here in the UK but, think about how much it would cost if it needs repairs or adjusting?

If you have to send it abroad to be repaired then this can be expensive.

It may turn out in the long run to be more expensive than if you had bought one in the UK.

As with any medical device or treatment the decision is entirely yours.

Treatments : A guide to Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss

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