Are Private Hearing Aids Better Than NHS Hearing Aids?
Which is better, NHS hearing aids or private hearing aids? It’s a question we are often asked. And it is normal to be confused. If you are weighing up your options, two things might stand out to you:
- NHS hearing aids are free of charge.
- Thousands of people choose to go private for their hearing aids every year.
Why might this be? On this page, we’ll explore the services provided by both the NHS and the private sectors — and find out why people make the choices that they do. First, starting with an overview of NHS hearing aids.
The pros and cons of NHS hearing aids
Here are some of the benefits and downsides of NHS hearing aids:
You’ll get free follow-up care, including (some) repairs and replacement batteries.
Some hospitals and NHS sites offer drop-in clinics for aftercare.
In some instances, even NHS home visits are possible. But you’ll need a letter from your GP before you can do this.
Digital models are now the standard type of hearing aid issued on the NHS.
There isn’t a whole lot of choice in the type of hearing aid the NHS provides. You’ll almost certainly end up with a behind-the-ear or an open-fit hearing aid.
It MAY be possible you could get a receiver-in-the-ear or in-the-canal hearing aid. Though not likely. (See our hearing aids page for more information on the different types and models and what they mean.)
You will probably be charged if you lose the hearing aid (check with the audiologist to be sure).
You will be charged if you damage the hearing aid and it needs repairing.
Waiting times are almost always longer on the NHS. While efforts are being made to speed up the process, you could be waiting up to 18 weeks for your hearing aids to be fitted.
Some hospitals and NHS sites offer drop-in clinics for aftercare — but you will usually have to wait to be seen.
The pros and cons of private hearing aids
Here are some of the benefits and downsides of private hearing aids:
Every hearing aid type is available, including the very small ‘invisible’ hearing aids.
Hearing assessments, follow-up appointments and aftercare are all are free of charge.
Our audiologists will visit your home, at a time and day of your convenience — so you won’t have to sit in a waiting room or travel.
Much shorter waiting times. We can fit your hearing aids immediately after your first hearing consultation. And we can get out to you in under 2-4 weeks. (Find out more about what happens in a hearing test here.)
Private hearing aids often come with lots of features that could make your life much easier. Including with the ability to stream music and phone calls right into them. The more advanced features may even make you neurologically healthier — as this study shows they can lessen the effects of mental fatigue on the brain as a result of being hard of hearing.
Many people who take the private route feel they have a more personable service.
Many colours and fittings — including “skin” tones to make them less noticeable.
1-year warranty and 1-years’ supply of batteries included
14-day money-back guarantee
Private hearing aids are not free. Prices start from £995.
The NHS is delivering more smaller and neater hearing aids than it used to. But what it has on offer is still very limited.
How to know if you want private or NHS hearing aids
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you ask people to repeat themselves quite a lot?
- Do you find it hard to follow a conversation when people speak quickly?
- Do you have to turn the volume up on the TV?
- Are you ready to find a solution to your hearing loss problem?
- Do you find it hard to hear what a person is saying in the car if you can’t see them speaking?
- Do you have trouble hearing when you have company?
- Do you find that background noise makes it harder to understand what it is people are saying?
- Do you sometimes ‘give up’ when having a group conversation?
- Have you tried hearing aids before — but felt dissatisfied with their failure to get rid of exercise background noise?
- Do you think hearing aids should be customised so that they work in the situations you often struggle to hear in?
- Would you prefer hearing aids that are ‘invisible’ or more discrete — rather than having more visible ones behind the ears?
If you answered ‘yes’ to the first four questions and ‘no’ to the rest of them (five to 11) then your best bet might be to make an appointment with an NHS audiologist.
But if you answered ‘yes’ largely to the questions, then it might be time to consider private hearing aids. As the NHS may struggle to meet what it is you are looking for.
Even if you want private hearing aids, there are still good reasons to go to the NHS first
There are two reasons why you should do this:
- For health reasons. Even though it’s unlikely, there could be an underlying (health) reason behind your hearing loss that isn’t to do with natural, age-related hearing loss.
Your GP or Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist will be able to find out if your problem is due to an infection or illness, or caused by some other way. For what it’s worth, our audiologists will also be able to tell if the problem is not age-related or a sign of “normal” hearing loss. But all they can do then is recommend that you contact your GP.
- To make a well-informed decision. It just makes sense to weigh up the options that the NHS is offering. By comparing the hearing aids available and listening to the experts from both the NHS and private health industries, you should be in a good place to figure out what to do next.
But for some people, their hearing loss is so problematic that they do not want to wait around. NHS hearing test waiting times can be as long as 18 weeks, but not always. Sometimes the waiting times are much shorter.
Can I go private, but be paid for by the NHS?
No. But in some areas across the country, you can get NHS hearing aids through private institutions. If you qualify for the Any Qualified Provider (AQP) scheme, you might be able to get the NHS treatment delivered through some private companies or charities, or local organisations.
You’ll still be considered an NHS patient on the AQP scheme. Meaning you will get a free service and hearing aids. But you will only be eligible if you have age-related hearing loss with no other complications. In some places, you might also have to be aged 55 or over.
Check with your GP to see if AQP applies in your area, or on the websites of local companies and organisations to see if they are running it and what the conditions are.
Waiting times for NHS hearing services compared to private
Most private companies can deliver your hearing aids within 10 days. And some, like us, can fit them on the spot right after your hearing assessment.
This means that in well under two weeks of contacting us, one of our expert audiologists could have already visited you, assessed you, and programmed and moulded your custom hearing aids.
Waiting times are longer on the NHS.
According to hearing aid waiting time data from NHS England, the longest anyone had to wait between being seen by a GP and getting their hearing aids is 18 weeks. This data, it should be noted, was taken before the full brunt of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some important takeaways from the NHS England data:
- Only 5% of NHS patients waited 18 weeks. Most people did not have to wait that long
- The average waiting time overall was 3.5 weeks
- People in the South West waited for the longest, and people in the North West had the shortest waiting time
It’s worth remembering that referral waiting times to see a GP are long. So you would have to add the time it takes to see a doctor on top of the potential 18-week wait.
Here are the waiting times for digital hearing aids in the rest of the Home Nations:
The types and choice of hearing aids available — comparing the NHS and private sectors
Private audiology companies have lots of choices of hearing aids available — including the latest ones with the most technological features. Features that could make a huge difference to your wellbeing. A part of the allure of the private sector is that they do offer more. So that you will be able to choose the hearing aids that you want.
But are NHS hearing aids any good? The quick answer is “yes”. It is a myth to say that NHS hearing aids are inferior. Actually, the NHS buys its hearing aids from many of the same manufacturers that sell to the private sector.
The difference is, once your NHS audiologist has assessed you, very often you don’t have much choice in the type of hearing aids you end up with.
In fact, you’ll almost certainly end up with behind-the-ear hearing aids after your NHS assessment. Which means they will be visible, or partly visible, to others. It’s important to note that whatever the NHS gives you, you can be sure that they will be up-to-date models.
And while the NHS provides a safe and effective treatment, they usually tend to stick to one type of manufacturer. It’s important to remember this because there are significant differences in the strategy of sound and signal processing between the different brands. How these sounds and signals are interpreted vary from person to person, but they could make a huge difference to you. So it is important to check out all the options available, NHS hearing aids versus private.
The hearing aids you can get with a private audiologist
You can pick whatever hearing aid type you want with a private service, providing they are suited to your hearing loss type. Including:
- Invisible in the canal
- Completely in canal
- Receiver in canal
- In the ear
- Behind the ear
- Open fit hearing aids
There’s a lot more on offer privately, and even the ones that you can get on the NHS are often available with more features with a private hearing care company. You will also be able to choose from a wider range of colours. So that you can either show it off as an accessory or blend it with your skin tone or hair.
Will I need behind-the-ear hearing aids, anyway?
If your hearing loss is quite severe, you might need behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aids anyway. As some of the smaller and more discrete models may not be powerful enough to improve your hearing.
Behind-the-ear styles tend to have a small box that sits behind the ear, linked by a thin tube to the front of the ear. While they are visible, some styles are more discreet than others.
If you have a mild-to-severe hearing loss, then it might be a good idea to speak to both the NHS and a private audiologist. Seeing as you’ll likely need BTE hearing aids anyway.
It’s always good to compare, and you will usually find that your private audiologist will have more BTE types to choose from. Including more features to make your life easier, and more discrete designs.
Find out more about the different types on our hearing aids page.
If you stick with the NHS, should you ask for two hearing aids?
Research from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) suggests that fitting two hearing aids is better than one — because most people tend to have hearing loss in both ears.
In the majority of cases, your NHS audiologist will pick up on this and offer you two hearing aids if needed. But some NHS providers will only offer both if they are requested.
So make sure to ask about two hearing aids if you are offered just one — and especially if you feel you might benefit from two.
Comparing the features across NHS and private hearing aids
You won’t have much choice in the type of hearing aid the NHS gives you. But the model you’ll get will usually be good and modern. But as there isn’t a whole lot of choice in the first place, this means you could miss out on many of the state-of-the-art features.
This could result in limitations to your hearing ability and connectivity. And connectivity is important. Some of the benefits of improved technology and connectivity include:
- A much larger number of channels for sound processing and compression
- More microphones so that you can focus your listening
- Speech recognition to enhance conversations
- Automatic fine-tuning whenever you move into a new environment
- More brand choices, which may have features that you enjoy more than other brands
- Smartphone and app-inclusivity, and other wireless features
The better the technology, the easier it will be for you and your brain to receive and process information. Which will make things easier for you, less tiring, and may even have long-term health benefits.
So are private hearing aids better than NHS ones? Well, that’s for you to decide. The NHS will give you a modern pair of hearing aids that should help out. But there are lots more choices privately that could improve your situation in many other ways, both cosmetically and in how they operate.
The benefits of private audiology
We’ve already covered some of the benefits to private audiology departments. But to sum up, here are the key reasons why many people pay to choose their hearing aids:
- A much greater choice of hearing aids, including invisible hearing aids which are very discrete. Choose the best hearing aids for you
- More available features that may improve your quality of life and reduce brain fatigue
- Much shorter waiting times. Hearing aids can be fitted on the day of your first hearing assessment. Waiting times on the NHS can be up to 18 weeks
- More brand choices that might suit and feel better
- We offer free at-home appointments that are more convenient. No more travelling down to the high street, sitting in waiting rooms, and perhaps a more sensible choice during the Covid-19 pandemic
- Unlimited aftercare. More structured and beneficial plans, follow-up appointments, maintenance checks, future monitoring and more
- We give you up to 60 days to get used to and make sure the hearing aids are right for you. You can even change devices during this time period. And if it doesn’t work out, then you’ll get a full refund
Does it all just come down to cost?
The biggest factor undoubtedly when thinking about hearing aids NHS or private is cost. NHS hearing aids are free. Private hearing aids can cost anywhere from £995 and upwards.
But there are lots of free services that you can access privately. Such as:
Free hearing tests
Free home visit appointments
Free follow-up appointments
Free tinnitus consultations
1 years’ worth of hearing aid batteries for free
A premium aftercare service
People who go down the private route often also feel like the experience is “more personable” and that they feel “less like a number”. Knowing that a healthcare professional will look after you every step of the way can also be a comfort that makes the cost of private hearing aid dispensers worth it.
When you have to pay for NHS hearing aids — even if they’re free
If you have NHS hearing aids, the NHS will replace them for free. But only if they’re at the end of their life cycle (about 5-6 years) or if they’ve just naturally broken due to normal wear and tear.
You will have to pay for your NHS hearing aids if they are damaged or lost due to negligence. Therefore, we advise that you take out hearing aid insurance even if you’re sticking with the NHS.
Why not book a FREE hearing assessment with us today
We’ll come to your home at a time that’s convenient for you. And we can have your new hearing aids — including your earmould — ready on the same day. At most, you’ll only have to wait under 2 weeks for a fitting appointment.
About the author
Asa Richards, Audiologist/HAD M.S.H.A.A
Head of Audiology & contributor
Asa has worked as an audiologist for 6 years, providing expert and revolutionary care to patients who suffer from hearing loss in the meantime. He also supervises the management, learning, and career development of the Hearmore Audiology and Sales Management team.
You can reach Asa on his LinkedIn page here.
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