Not many days pass without a customer asking me or telling me about NHS hearing aids. Some that ask have yet to experience the services the NHS can offer whilst others have been through the process and are looking to see what alternatives are available. I thought it may be interesting, therefore, to describe the process and principles that apply to obtaining a hearing aid from the NHS.
Let me start by saying that all of us at HearingDirect are big fans of the NHS and in particular the audiological services it provides. Under ever growing funding pressure, we should be proud that our National Health Service is still able to offer a free hearing aid to anyone that needs one (although how sustainable this will become in the current ‘cut’ based climate remains to be seen). It is, however, an area under scrutiny and it seems likely that a similar approach to that which saw the provision of glasses move into the private sector with a government contribution will be adopted. But for now, the process is broadly as follows:
By far the most common route is to make an appointment with your GP who will run through a screening process to determine the nature of any hearing concerns. Some even offer diagnostic hearing evaluations within their practice although this is rare. Assuming that they do not offer this service then following this initial screening process (which will also serve to help determine whether any hearing loss is being caused by a medical condition, as opposed to the far more common cause which is typically age related) you will be referred to your local hospital’s audiology department for a diagnostic hearing evaluation.
The appointment and indeed the entire process falls under governmental targets and almost all NHS hospitals/trusts meet these targets. As a consequence, the 2 year waiting lists have all but disappeared with most patients waiting no longer than a couple of months.
Once you have had your hearing evaluated, the degree or severity of hearing loss is established. The results take the form of an audiogram (amongst other test results such as speech in noise). This is a graphical representation of your hearing capabilities across a range of standard frequencies. The degree of loss is measured in decibels against a ‘norm’. Assuming that the results indicate presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) which is the case for about 85% of hearing losses, the audiologist will recommend a hearing aid from the range they have available. At this point most NHS hearing aids types will not be issued to you (although a growing number of audiology departments do provide some instant fit solutions) but an impression of your ear will be taken using some special material in order to prepare a mould to which the hearing aid is attached and then placed behind the ear. In the ear devices are only offered in very rare circumstances. You will then be offered a future appointment to come back and have the hearing aid fitted; this is typically 2 weeks or so later.
The hearing aid fitting appointment is, as the name suggests, where the aid is fitted from a physical and audiological perspective. It will be programmed by the audiologist to your hearing test (audiogram) results and you will be shown how to put it on and remove it and taken through the various aspects of the hearing aid prescribed for you. An interesting but little known fact is that the hearing aid is not ‘given’ to you but rather loaned to you – the hearing aid always remains the property of the hospital or trust that issued it. Once this appointment is completed and you have your hearing aid, you will be offered a follow up appointment (again usually 2 weeks or so later) to determine how you are getting on and whether any adjustments need to be made.
During the follow up appointment you will be offered some adjustments to the hearing aid’s performance if required and any general usage questions may be answered. At the end of this appointment you have reached the end of the official process and any subsequent appointments or requirements fall outside of the governmental targets mentioned in the previous blog on this subject. As a consequence, it can often be difficult to get any immediate help in relation to any problems you may have – mostly a funding and time issue rather than a lack of care.
So, in summary, obtaining a hearing aid from the NHS requires some degree of patience but the quality of care and the performance of the hearing aids have grown significantly better in the last few years.
As mentioned in this blog, we are big fans of the NHS and the work it does to help people with hearing problems. HearingDirect was established to provide an additional alternative to the private provision of hearing aids with more realistic prices. Thus enabling those interested in pursuing a private alternative to the NHS to do so in a more affordable and convenient way than before. We offer digital hearing aids from £99 which can be delivered to your door the very next day if required; no waiting, no fuss and no appointments.
If you would like to know more about obtaining a hearing aid through the NHS then we would be delighted to talk to you; please feel free to contact us on 0800 032 1301 and we will do our best to answer any questions you may have.
Original article 8/8/2011, last updated 14/8/2014