Who do I go with for my hearing aid – the NHS, or private?

My mother in law has asked me to contact you, as she does not have email access. She has an appointment next month for a free hearing test with a well-known hearing aid shop in the nearest big town (we live in the country), but I have told her they may then try to sell her a hearing aid.
What do you think she should do – have you heard of them, or do you have any advice for her?

Deafauntie says:
Hearing aids, and how they are sold or dispensed, can be complicated. In the UK hearing aids are dispensed in two ways: private or the NHS.
People always recommend that you should try the NHS first. The quality of service and provision is usually good, but it does depend on where you live (even though it shouldn’t). The advantage of the NHS is that you stay in the system and can be referred to other places such as Ear Nose & Throat departments (often in the same building) if you have other ear-related problems. Also, if you have a good GP s/he will monitor your progress.
Free hearing tests are offered by both the NHS – although you need a doctor’s referral letter – and private dispensers, or shops, as you mention. One advantage of private dispensers is their range of hearing aids, which is far greater than that provided by the NHS, and they will even visit you at home if you cannot get out and about. However, on average private hearing aids cost a few thousand pounds each.
I suggest that a friend or relative accompany you to the private dispenser – rather than go on your own, as they may press you to buy a hearing aid before you’ve had time to think.
You can state very clearly at the beginning, “I am here for a free hearing test and some advice then I need to go away and think about the options you offer”.
In your longer email you say your
hearing aids don’t seem to work for you. Perhaps they have not yet been tuned properly? In which case, you go back for another discussion and hearing aid re-tuning.
Please remember hearing aids are not magic – at the end of the day, you are still hard of hearing. This can be a shock for some people who experience hearing loss later in life.
Ultimately, weigh up all the pros and cons bearing in mind where you live, how supportive your GP is, how much money you have, how quickly you want to be seen and so on. Good luck!

8 responses to “Who do I go with for my hearing aid – the NHS, or private?

  1. NHS is the best route. Hearing aids are much better today than in the past. Once you have become accustomed to the NHS hearing aids then you can make an informed decision about private ones and even ask to try them out before buying to compare. Often NHS system is better than private.

  2. I remember once i was nearly going to go private. But I am so glad i did not choose that route because as my hearing changed in that year I was thinking about it, the hearing aids i would have chosen privately would have been no good. Then that would have been money wasted in my eyes.

    A year ago i changed NHS audiologist. And I wear a different brand of hearing aids that I have never worn before. (These are Phonak SP These hearing aids with sound enhancement.) These I now wear are for set accordingly for my hearing loss. And they are brilliant. I really recommend in saving your money and trying NHS. On top of costs of your hearing aids if you go private, you have batteries to think about, and depending on your hearing aids, tubes being replaced every so many months too.

    My batteries last a week and so many days. Times that by two as I wear hearing aids in both ears, and see how many batteries you have per pack and what they cost each pack, can soon mount up. NHS are handed free. You take in your old packs of batteries for new.

    As its been mentioned in this post, you may need more than one visit to get the hearing aids tweaked to suit you. It can take on average 3 or 4 trips to get it right for some people.

    Best wishes to the path you take.

  3. Christine Staines

    I believe Spec savers have links with NHS hearing aids. Just that I saw an advert in Spec savers shop. Perhaps this has the best of both worlds.

  4. I think it’s worth mentioning that some private hearing aid dispensers don’t extend to profound deafness. Before I had my CI op, by way of exploring my options I visited a local hearing aid shop, where I had a hearing test for their records. I recall sitting opposite with my head turned away, waiting for the beeps.
    After a few minutes I only knew something was wrong when the audiologist took off his glasses.
    ‘I’m afraid,’ he said, showing me a blank audiogram, ‘we don’t serve your level of deafness.’ It turned out that their equipment tested for only half the decibel range of the NHS.

  5. Hi Barbara. I’m concerned you say hearing aids don’t seem to work for you. In that case, you should take the NHS route. The private route is very expensive – probably thousands of pounds for a pair of modern aids – and there’s not much point in spending a lot of money if there’s a high risk they won’t be effective for you.

    As Laraine says, you should get Audiology to help you understand why hearing aids don’t seem to work for you before you do anything else.Don’t go near the private sector (unless referred there by the NHS as their “service provider”) until you’ve been given a satisfactory explanation for this issue. Yes, maybe your existing aids simply need reprogramming by Audiology. But it could be soimething else.

    As Rob said, these days NHS generally provide just as good aids as the private system.The main difference, in my experience, is in the wait-times. I walked into a private dispenser without an appointment on a Wednesday and went back to collect my aids the following Tuesday (6 days). I paid a lot of money but I was delighted with the aids and the service. With the NHS, I had to wait 18 weeks for my hearing test and then another 18 weeks to collect my aids. On the other hand, it’s a postcode lottery and your NHS service might be quicker than mine.

    I used several private dispensers over the years before switching to the NHS because it’s a free service. All these private dispensers provided a better service than the NHS in that they had better equipment (eg sound-proof booths) and better deaf awareness (my NHS Audiologist was eating a sandwich as he spoke to me). But note the comments (above) that with the NHS you are “in the system” and that private dispensers might not be capable of providing services to people with certain conditions – eg profound deafness.

    Finally, remember that your first port of call should always be your GP, who will do a visual check of your ears for wax or possible infection.

  6. I’ve had the same experience as Melissa. A private dispenser even let me try private hearing aids and he did admit he couldn’t really help me. I tried different ones on the NHS and in the end, out of frustration, I asked for a cochlear implant. To my shock, they said I met the criteria and now I have two cochlear implants. I am so glad I didn’t spend money on private hearing aids.

    I would recommend you ‘shop around’ on the NHS and then see how you feel.

  7. I live in Hampshire and have had bad experience with NHS and private hearing aid dispensers. Does anyone have a dispenser they would reccommend ?

  8. Hi,

    My name is John and I have a quick question about your blog! Could you please email me?

    Thank you,


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