In the UK there are 3 routes to follow in order to obtain a hearing aid. If you are entitled to medical care on the NHS and you are diagnosed with a hearing loss, you can have a hearing aid/s fitted free of charge via the NHS. If you prefer to seek private care, you can purchase hearing aids from any number of high street hearing aid centres or investigate your options online.
What do I do first?
In order to receive a hearing aid from the NHS, you will first need a referral from your GP. Make an appointment to discuss your hearing concerns, or ask during an appointment for something else , and your GP will take it from there.
Your GP will probably ask you some questions related to your hearing and health of your ears. He or she will look into your ears using an otoscope to first rule out any issues such as a wax build up or ear infections which may be contributing to or causing your hearing difficulties. The GP may also do a very basic hearing screening test if they have appropriate equipment in the surgery. More likely, if no immediate medical concerns are found with your ears, you will be referred for a full hearing test.
Will I be referred?
Until recently, the usual procedure was to refer patients to their local NHS audiology unit, where you would need to wait for the department to send you an appointment letter to attend a hearing test. However, in many areas of the UK, there is now an 'AQP' system in place for adult hearing services. AQP stands for: Any Qualified Provider, which effectively gives you a choice of where to go following the GP referral. You may be able to make your choice there and then when you are with your GP but in many places this will be done through an independent referral management centre – an administrative organisation that will contact you and hopefully explain the options in detail.
"In many areas of the UK there is now an 'AQP' system in place for adult hearing services"
An in-depth assessment procedure is in place to evaluate organisations applying for AQP status. Any organisation can put in a bid but in order to qualify they need to show how they can provide a stable, ongoing and high quality service for adult hearing services.
Depending on your area and which organisations applied for AQP status, you may have a choice of attending one of the following:
- Your local NHS service, which may operate at the local hospital itself or a satellite clinic location
- A high street hearing aid chain - such as those run by Scrivens Hearing Care; Specsavers; Amplifon or Boots Hearing Care
- A local independent hearing care company
- A social enterprise or charity organisation
What happens after choosing a provider?
Once you have chosen your provider, they will carry out a hearing assessment, and if hearing aids are indicated they will provide them.
The AQP contract requires providers to give all necessary aftercare for three years. After three years, your hearing aid provider will contact you to see if your hearing aids are still meeting your needs. If they are, then they will provide a further year of aftercare. If not, you will need to go back to your GP for a new referral. You will then be able to choose the same provider or opt for a different one; go for a new hearing test and new hearing aids. If you are not happy with a provider during the 3 year period, you are entitled to ask for a transfer to another provider.
Regardless of which provider you choose, the provision of free hearing aids with the AQP system is still managed via the NHS and the products which are supplied are contracted to the NHS. AQP providers must only provide a limited list of approved hearing aids, almost all of which are behind-the-ear.
Buying hearing aids online
Why shop online for hearing aids?
Because of the wide variation in hearing aid prices, many people spend a great deal of time comparing prices and 'shopping around;' more and more of which is done by browsing the internet.
"many people spend a great deal of time comparing prices"
To cater for this growing trend, most private companies and independent practices ensure they maintain an up-to-date website as part of their marketing budget. Some companies will only provide general information about their services, staff and location, while others will transparently advertise and actively compete on hearing aid prices.
Do I need an appointment?
Although some websites will show hearing aid prices, you may not be able to purchase these products directly from the sites, you will still need to make an appointment to have the product fitted. However, there are online businesses that also offer hearing aid products for direct purchase, and that do not require you to attend a fitting appointment.
For many people, for variety of reasons, the option to have something delivered straight to one's home is appealing. These products are mostly suited for mild to moderate hearing loss, where there are no complicating medical factors. Because overheads associated with more traditional hearing aid fitting can be minimised or eliminated completely, the price of purely online products can be kept surprisingly low.
Thinking of buying hearing aids online?
Watch our 2 minute video to see just how easy it is. Whether it's for you or someone you know, we can help you save time and money when choosing the right hearing aid.
The High Street
Who are the high street hearing aid providers?
Many people in the UK choose to pay for their hearing aids rather than receive them via the NHS.
"There are numerous private hearing aid providers"
There are numerous private hearing aid providers, which include high street chain stores (such as Scrivens, Specsavers Hearing Care, Boots Hearing Care, Amplifon and Hidden Hearing); plus independent centres owned by individual practitioners.
What happens after choosing a provider?
In order to have a hearing test, anyone can directly approach a private hearing aid provider for an appointment. You do not have to have a GP referral. Many stores offer free hearing tests while some centres will charge you for the testing service, particularly if they offer more in-depth diagnostic procedures. You will most likely be seen by a professional called a hearing aid dispenser.
The initial appointment will usually involve the taking of a 'case history' (questions related to your medical history and hearing difficulties), an examination of your ear canal and ear drum via an otoscope and then a hearing test.
"you should be offered a full explanation of the results"
After the test has been completed, you should be offered a full explanation of the results and at least an initial consultation regarding next steps should you have a hearing loss. In cases where the hearing aid dispenser expresses concern over possible medical reasons for your hearing loss (e.g. infection, ear wax, associated balance or tinnitus problems), you will be asked to first consult your GP before a hearing aid is fitted. A large proportion of hearing loss cases seen by hearing aid dispensers are simply age-related hearing loss or prolonged exposure to loud noise levels and a hearing aid can be recommended and trialled directly after the test if desired.
What hearing aids are available?
There are hundreds of hearing aids available on the private market, manufactured by a fairly long list of hearing aid manufacturers. Each manufacturer advertises a wide range of hearing aid styles, as well as different technological features, each trying to out-do the other in terms of their sound processing expertise. It can be incredibly daunting to try to negotiate through the myriad of options without seeking professional advice. Most hearing aid dispensers concentrate on a small number of manufacturers' products, which can still offer a reasonable range of options for clients.
"It can be incredibly daunting to negotiate through the myriad of options without seeking professional advice"
The price of privately available hearing aids varies considerably. From around £500 to upwards of £3000, and this can be for just one or a pair, depending on where the devices are obtained. One can expect some of the variation to be due to technological differences. Beyond this, ensure that you understand exactly what is and is not included in the hearing aid price. Some companies will offer long warranty periods, free follow ups, and even free batteries.