A Smart-Shopper’s Guide to Hearing Aids in the UK
If you’re shopping for your first pair of hearing aids in the UK, take a moment to explore your options. To find the right solution for you, talk with a hearing health professional, do some basic research, and learn weigh up the pros and cons of purchasing privately versus seeking care through the NHS.
Hearing aids on display in a high street shop
Avenues to getting hearing aids in the UK
In the UK, you can get a pair of hearing aids at no cost from the National Health Service (NHS). For a broader selection of models with advanced capabilities and a less visible profile, you can purchase hearing aids through an independent audiologist. Let’s take a closer look at both options.
The NHS option
Your general practitioner will need to refer you to an NHS audiologist who will evaluate your hearing loss and advise you on the most suitable hearing aids available through NHS. The audiologist will also program the devices to best improve your hearing and ensure a comfortable fit.
The NHS contracts with some of the same hearing aid manufacturers that private providers choose to work with. However, the NHS may not have access to the latest models and features. Regardless, the NHS does have models that are suitable for all types of hearing loss.
Costs at the NHS?
Hearing aids obtained through the NHS are free. There are no costs to the user because they are provided on loan and remain the property of NHS during the time you use them. Should you damage or lose the hearing aids due to negligence, you would be liable for repair or replacement costs. Replacements are typically under £200.
How long will I have to wait for NHS hearing aids?
On average you might wait six weeks for your hearing test and another six weeks to have your new hearing aids fitted. This can vary depending on where you live. NHS UK data shows that almost all hearing aid patients (98 percent) were treated within eighteen weeks.
NHS: The Advantages
No cost: Not only are the hearing aids free, any follow-up care and repairs are free unless the devices have been misused.
Drop-in clinics: Some hospitals may offer drop-in hearing aid aftercare services. Check with your local NHS on availability in your area.
Home visits: Some NHS providers may also provide home visits if your general practitioner provides a letter requesting them for medical reasons (i.e. bedridden). The availability of this service depends on where you live and the specific hearing healthcare services you need.
NHS: The Disadvantages
No Ownership: NHS hearing aids are on loan to you. This means that you may be responsible for covering the costs if you break them.
Longer Waiting Time: A recent UK study by consumer watchdog Which? found that waiting times were a deterrent for some patients. Only 78 percent of those who went through the NHS were satisfied with the waiting period, compared with 95 percent of those who went through the private sector.
A Limited Range of Options: When compared to offerings from private hearing care providers, device options at the NHS are more limited. If you are looking for a smaller or more discreet device, you might be disappointed, because the NHS primarily offers behind-the-ear models.
Face-to-Face Time with the Audiologist: Choosing the NHS option means you may not see the same audiologist at every visit and you may have less face-to-face time when compared to a private hearing care provider.
The Private Option
Within the private sector, the cost of hearing aids varies widely — from a few hundred pounds to a few thousand pounds per aid — depending on the style and model you choose. The more features and programmes you want, the more the aids generally cost. In the UK, costs range from £600 to £2,200 per hearing aid. People pay on average £2,500 for a pair of hearing aids.
A recent UK survey by Which? found that 31 percent of hearing-loss patients bought their hearing aids privately. The survey also revealed that local hearing aid providers earned higher scores for customer satisfaction when compared to Boots Hearingcare, Specsavers Hearing Centres, Amplifon, Hidden Hearing and Scrivens Hearingcare.
While private providers generally have a wider range of styles and models available (when compared to the NHS), selection can be limited if providers work with a small number of manufacturers. Talk to your local hearing aid practitioners to find out if they can offer the model you’re looking for.
UK High Street Retailers
There are several larger companies that sell hearing aids on pretty much any high street in any city across the UK. These include Amplifon, Boots Hearing Care, Hidden Hearing, and Specsavers Hearcare. In terms of market share, Boots and Specsavers are the largest. Most large retailers have ties to specific hearing aid manufacturers, which may influence the products they recommend. Boots, for example, is partly owned by Phonak’s parent company, Sonova. And Hidden Hearing is owned by Oticon’s parent company, Demant.
Bonavox is a subsidiary of WSAudiology
Pros of shopping at high street retailers
Latest products: High street retailers are typically the first to offer the latest hearing aid models.
Faster service: There is little to no wait when booking appointments for fittings, and hearing aids can be acquired on the very same day in some cases.
More choice of styles: Going private through one of these retailers is a good option if you want one of the smaller hearing aids. Some high street companies, though, may only show you products they are affiliated with.
Consistent, personal service: You’ll see the same audiologist on follow-up visits, so they really get to know about you and your hearing loss issues. Generally, the practitioners will take the time needed to answer all your questions and discuss your concerns.
Cons of shopping at high street retailers
More expensive: High street retailers have high overheads, which means you'll end up paying a lot more for hearing aids than through the NHS or an online audiology network.
Pay for repairs: You’ll also shoulder costs for repairs outside the warranty, as well as other accessories like batteries and wax guards.
Costco Wholesale stores
Costco Wholesale stores throughout the UK sell hearing aids at affordable prices. Hearing aid sales represent the company’s second highest source of revenue, behind wine. Because Costco is one of the largest buyers in the industry, it can buy hearing aids at a much lower price and pass these savings on to customers.
Online shopping for hearing aids has exploded in recent years. Customers can choose from hearing aids from all manufacturers. Online retailers generally have lower overheads, so customers can take advantage of the savings accrued.
Shopping for your hearing aids online is not unlike shopping for any other product online. You choose the hearing aid you want and add it to your cart. Then, the online shop will program the hearing aids for you, and ship you the hearing aids.
Although online retailers may offer cheaper options, they don’t offer the face-to-face contact with an audiologist that you would have at a brick-and-mortar location. If your hearing aids need a few adjustments or an urgent repair, you might also have to send them back and wait weeks before they are repaired and returned to you.
Any electronic device requires long-term care. This is especially true of hearing aids, which might be worn up to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. Hearing aids will need repairs, regular maintenance, reprogramming, and cleaning throughout their life cycle. It's just another reason why it's so important to develop a long-term relationship with an audiologist who offers a comprehensive aftercare program.
Online networks of private audiologists
In addition to high street retailers, large wholesalers, and online stores, you may choose to work through national online referral networks like Hearing Aid UK and Your Hearing that can connect you with independent hearing healthcare services wherever you live in the UK.
A phonak hearing aid on hearingaid.org.uk
Online networks generally offer extensive catalogues of hearing aids. They offer some of the lowest prices in the UK, which typically includes testing, programming, fitting, and hearing aid aftercare.