The UK hearing aid market is different from almost every other country due to the existence of the NHS. The NHS (National health service) entitles all UK citizens to free health care. This includes free NHS hearing aids.
There has been a lot of debate over the years regarding the quality and the capabilities of NHS hearing aids. I have been wearing them for many years as well as wearing other devices that I have purchased. This is my personal opinion of NHS hearing aids.
How to get NHS hearing aids.
Most people will go through a similar experience in order to get hearing aids on the NHS. Exceptions would be hearing loss due to an accident or some other very sudden form deterioration in their hearing ability.
The first step for most people would be a trip to visit their local doctor or GP (general practitioner). This comes through noticing that their hearing is getting worse or more often other people pointing out to them that they have a problem.
The GP will generally refer them to an audiologist at a hospital. They will be taken through a controlled hearing test. The audiologist will also examine the ear internally. The patient will be asked a series of questions relating to age, how long the symptoms have persisted, their work environment etc…
Basically, two things can happen at this stage. If the audiologist thinks that the hearing loss is due simply to age then they can recommend a free NHS hearing aid and arrange for a fitting.
However, if the audiologist believes that the hearing loss is linked to another condition (in my case it was Meniere’s Disease) then they can recommend the patient to see an ENT (ears, nose and throat) consultant for further inspection.
What type of NHS hearing aids will you get?
The model and type of earpiece you will get are determined by all the information the audiologist/consultant has at their disposal. This will include your audiogram result, level of hearing loss and any other information they think is relevant to your individual case.
The two most common models are the BTE (behind the ear) and the ITE (in the ear).
The BTE model.
The current NHS model I have is an Oticon Spirit Zest P. It is a BTE (behind the ear) model where the main body of the device sits behind my ear and the earpiece is linked by a thin clear tube. The earpiece can be a small bud type that fits inside the ear canal or a full mould type that completely encloses the ear canal.
The ITE model.
This is a much smaller device which sits entirely inside the ear canal making it almost invisible to others. In my experience, it is very rare for this type of model to be given out on the NHS.
How good are NHS hearing aids?
The only way to answer this question is to compare NHS hearing aids to ones that can be bought privately. I have extensive use of both types over many years and things have changed a lot in that time.
Going back 20 years most hearing aids were of a similar quality. The capabilities were similar from the various manufacturers. The emphasis was solely on increasing the level of sound and giving the wearer a better quality of hearing.
NHS model capability.
NHS hearing aids have become better in terms of sound quality. My current model is manufactured by Oticon. They are one of the leading manufacturers in the world and the sound quality is very good. They have a T (telecoil) setting that allows me to link to any loop system.
I can also link to other devices through Bluetooth and they have a volume control button. They also look a lot better than the old brown models that were the standard.
NHS hearing aids also come with free batteries for life and free aftercare. With batteries only lasting, at most, 10 days maximum and tubes etc needing to be replaced on a regular basis, this a major plus in their favour.
Private model capability.
I have tried and tested some of the very latest models available on the private market. The difference between them and the NHS models are astounding. Technology has developed to such an extent that there is very little the latest models cannot do.
One of the models I have tested is the Resound LiNX 7(read my review here). I was completely blown away by the level of technology encased within such a small device. Just a few examples of this are,
The smart App. This allows your phone to interact with your smart device such as phones, iPads, iPods etc…
17 Sound Processing Channels.
Tinnitus Sound Generator.
These are only a very few of the capabilities of modern hearing aids. The range of connectivity with other devices and the technological advances in sound quality make privately bought hearing aids way more advanced than their NHS counterparts.
The downside to these modern bought devices is the price. Whilst you can buy good quality, basic hearing aids for as little as £250, if you want the all singing, all dancing models then you can expect to fork out around £2000 per aid.
NHS hearing aids play a vital role in maintaining the nations hearing health. Whilst they are fairly basic in their capability they are ideal for first-time users. Getting hearing aids for the first time is a major step. Getting used to them can be problematic for a lot of people.
It seems pointless to me to go out and spend hundreds, if not thousands of pounds on a set of hearing aids, only to find that they don’t suit or that you cannot adapt to them. It is better to get used to and comfortable with NHS devices before looking further afield.
Once you are comfortable wearing hearing aids, then you can decide to broaden your horizons and look for a device that enhances your hearing experience and gives you the very best quality of hearing health.
There are lots of things you need to take into consideration when buying hearing aids from the high street. I have set out a step by step guide on how to go about doing so in order for you to get the very best device for your particular circumstances. Read my post here (How to cost hearing aids – The ultimate buyers guide).
As ever, thank you for calling in. Please leave any comments below and I will reply as soon as possible.