There are two ways of getting hearing aids: free on long term loan as an NHS patient or buying them from a private hearing aid dispenser.
You may find it helpful to read through all the information below before deciding which route to take.
Digital hearing aids are now fitted routinely on the NHS across the UK and are usually the behind-the-ear type.
Action On Hearing Loss produce useful factsheets on digital hearing aids and the NHS hearing aid service. Although the current NHS range of products can cater for most types of hearing loss, many more models are available privately.
In special circumstances, your consultant may prescribe a hearing aid for you which is not normally available on the NHS.
NHS hearing aids
It is a good idea to make a special visit to your GP to discuss your concerns about your hearing, rather than raising it at the end of a consultation about a different health problem, which your doctor may see as more important. After all, your hearing is very valuable to you!
Ask your GP to refer you for a hearing assessment. This may be with an Ear Nose and Throat specialist or an audiologist.
Arrangements differ slightly from one area to another, and waiting times also vary. Most GPs will be happy to refer you, once they have examined your ears and checked that they can't offer treatment.
If your GP is reluctant to refer you, remind her/him of the effects hearing loss is having on your life. Explain that you should at least have the chance to find out if there is a problem and what can be done to help you.
At the hospital or health centre, your ears will be examined and your hearing will be tested by an audiologist. If the tests suggest that a hearing aid or aids may help you, an impression of your ear will be taken so that an earmould can be made.
Once the earmould is ready you will be fitted with the hearing aid. The hearing aid, batteries, repairs and servicing will all be provided free of charge. If it is decided that you will benefit from two hearing aids, the NHS should provide both free of charge.
Contact the hearing aid department if you have any problems using your aid. They may be able to adjust it, change it for a different model or advise you about getting used to it.
Even if you buy an aid privately you still have the right to an NHS one. Most people find NHS aids very helpful and it is often a good idea to try a free NHS aid and see if it suits you, before thinking about buying one.
Some hospitals have private hearing aid dispensers selling aids in the hospital, as well as the free NHS service.
Buying hearing aids
Hearing aids are sold to the public by hearing aid dispensers, not by the manufacturers. Although you do not need to be referred to a dispenser by your GP, it is a good idea to see your GP first, as dispensers are not likely to be medically trained.
If you see your GP first, then any medical problem with your ears may be picked up.
All hearing aid dispensers must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and meet the HCPC’s ‘fitness to practice’ standards.
However, services do vary, so you need to be careful with your choice of dispenser. If you have any problems with an aid you have purchased privately, talk to the dispenser first. If you are still unhappy you might want to contact the Health and Care Professions Council about your concerns.
If you decide to buy an aid, the following points may be of help:
- Use a dispenser who has been recommended by a friend.
- Go to a local dispenser.
- Take a friend or relative who has good hearing with you.
- Book an appointment with a dispenser in advance - don't buy hearing aids at an exhibition, or on the 'spur of the moment'.
- Make sure that you get a money back guarantee with enough time (at least 28 days) to try the aids and decide whether you want to keep them. You need to use them in a variety of situations to see whether they really help you. Each hearing aid will cost between £500 and £3,500, so you need to be sure that what you buy is right for you.
- Do read any document you are asked to sign carefully. By signing an agreement to buy an aid, you are entering into a legal contract. If you are unsure about anything in the contract, don't sign! Action On Hearing Loss has more advice on buying hearing aids.
Choosing hearing aids
Most people need some guidance when getting hearing aids. Action On Hearing Loss publishes two factsheets: Digital hearing aids and NHS hearing aid service, which answers some of the most common queries.
Here are a few points that you may wish to think about when deciding what sort of hearing aids you might want.
- With any hearing aid whether issued on the NHS or privately, it can take several months to adjust to hearing sounds around you. If at any stage the sound is uncomfortable and you cannot wear the hearing aids, it is best to return to your audiologist who can make any necessary adjustments for you.
- Remember that in-the-ear hearing aids can be fiddly to adjust, because of the very small controls. If you have arthritis in your fingers, or poor sight, this could be a problem for you. On the other hand, in-the-ear aids are usually easy to insert in your ear.
- Be aware that the claims made in some hearing aid advertisements can be misleading. Be especially cautious about claims that a particular hearing aid will cure the problems of unwanted background noise. This still remains the major problem for hearing aid manufacturers and users, although some hearing aids have special features to help with this.
- If you decide to buy an aid, you can expect it to last around 5 to 7 years. But, of course, if your hearing gets worse, you may need to replace the aid with a more powerful model, which you will have to buy. You will also have to pay for batteries and repairs.
- Many people benefit from a hearing aid in each ear. If you need them you should be able to get them on the NHS.
- Remember that owning a private hearing aid does not affect your right to a NHS aid.