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The challenges of buying hearing aids

Hearing aid

Behind-the-ear hearing aids or invisible ‘in-the-canal’ ones? iPhone-compatible or no frills? £500 or £7,000 per pair? Buying hearing aids comes with a whole host of choices to wade through.

One of those choices is whether to buy them on the high street, to get them from the NHS or – if your area runs the ‘Any Qualified Provider’ scheme – getting the NHS to pay for your high street hearing aids.

And it’s not always easy to know what you’re paying for. Many providers aren’t putting prices on their websites, let alone what the ‘package’ you’re getting includes, making it even harder to compare them.

Quotes from the top

We asked the big four hearing aid high street companies – Amplifon, Boots Hearingcare/ David Ormerod, Hidden hearing and Specsavers – to quote for hearing aids at different levels. We found you can pay anywhere from £500 to £7,000 a pair.

Interestingly, it’s not necessarily true that paying more gets you a better hearing aid. We decided to look in detail at what features you’d get for each level of hearing aid and what you’d pay.  For example, if you spend a lot of time at home with limited social interaction you might be better off with a basic hearing aid without unnecessary features.

This means that the quality of your hearing aid assessment can make the difference between a good and bad hearing aid experience, rather than the actual hearing aids themselves.

Which? member rating

We surveyed Which? members earlier this year, asking them to rate hearing aid high street providers on products and pricing, staff and service, and arrangements and facilities.

While some thought they’d got an excellent service, others felt they’d been encouraged to buy more expensive hearing aids than they thought they needed. You can see how the retailers performed in our hearing aid guide.

It seems a tricky market to navigate – what’s been your experience of buying hearing aids? Do you feel you made all the right choices?

Comments
Member

It looks like this is another very over-priced medical necessity when you consider what other sometimes very complex electronics are on the market at a fraction of the price.

As we have to turn to the private sector more and more for our medical needs, it is time the costs of all private medical services were assessed and capped.

Member
Geoff Riches RHAD says:
22 October 2014

Like what has been said, the Hearing Aid Market is a minefield of missinformed adverts, to prices that are mostly sprats to catch a mackrel, technology today is mind boggling, and is it suitable for everyone, the NHS supply is very hit and miss to where you live, and the waiting times can be a few weeks to months, NHS aids are a bulk buy product and generaly one size fits all, not being able to see the full Which Survey, it’s hard for me to comment what people say, but in my 26yrs of dispensing Hearing Aids, most people are happy with NHS aids, “Because they are Free” and have mostly been missinformed by the NHS as to the cost of Private Hearing Aids, so they tend to be happy, people with private aids tend to have a high expectation of there aids, because they have paid for them, so may not be happy because they missed a word or two, or the “Background” noise was to loud in the pub, so they mave have been “Under” percribed as to what they needed, either in technology or to useing One or Two aids, and like some High Street providers the cost may have prevented them getting the correct system for there needs, so it boils down to who do you choose, well, my advice is, look for a Independent Supplier with no tie-up to a single supplier, like most if not all major high street shops.. Boots are tied to Phonak… Hidden Hearing are tied to Oticon… Amplicom are tied to GN Resound.. Spec Savers are tied to the cheapest supplier who give them a deal, at the moment it’s Rexton, there aids tie you to Spec Savers and can,t be adjusted by no one else, and also some will have there own model numbers so you can,t compare prices, so choose an Independent, and ask for a price list so you can compare prices, never be pushed into Money Off deals or 50% off deals or 2 4 1 because if it may sound good but 50% off WHAT.

Member
Colin Campbell says:
20 November 2014

Great debate – but just a small correction – Specsavers are not “tied to the cheapest supplier” – Specsavers offer hearing aids from all of the major world leading manufacturers and are tied only to a commitment to offer the best value for money to our customers coupled with great customer service

Member
David Turner says:
23 October 2014

I was surprised not to see any reference to the superb service offered by Lloyds Pharmacies. My local one gave me a free hearing test with an audiologist who also examined my ears, then fitted me with a pair of aids which I was allowed to play with for a month before deciding to buy. They were so excellent, I bought a pair which, at under £400 each was a bargain. I was losing high tone in both ears so missing telephone ringing, unable to listen to speech on the car radio and, worst of all, found conversation in noisy rooms a nightmare. My two aids have solved all those issues and assisted hearing passengers when I drive and even suppressed my long standing tinnitus. Terrific!

Member
Helen Jones says:
11 December 2015

I have also found Lloyds Pharmacy to offer an excellent service. After visiting Amplifon, Boots and another independent, Lloyds Pharmacy were the only one that gave me a report with my free hearing test.The report referred me back to my GP for further investigations due to an unusual hearing loss. After having tests done, including mri scan, and trying an NHS hearing aid. I’m now returning to Lloyds Pharmacy.I phoned them to explain that I had seen an audiologist 11 months ago and been referred back to my GP. They also asked me to bring any relevant tests that I had done by the hospital. As I have already tried an NHS hearing aid but found it unsuitable as I work with adults with learning disabilities who have speech impairments. So I need to ensure that I have the best and most affordable hearing aids. As I now need 2!

Member
Bessie says:
24 October 2014

After using NHS hearing aids for several years I finally went private.The difference is immeasurable!
I don’t have to wait months,I don’t have to have a doctor’s referral each time and I don’t have to travel sometimes 30 or more miles for an appointment.
I have used the Outside Clinic based at Swindon and I cannot speak too highly.they were quick to come to my home,check my hearing and suggest aids.My new ones are small,behind the ear,work in tandem and are so comfortable I forget I am wearing them.I have had one call out,with a quick response and was shown how to change the wax guards which I can now do myself.
Batteries are extra. £35 for six months.The total cost,including cleaning and repairing kits was £2000
And worth every penny.

Member
Frank says:
24 October 2014

Individual experiences are always going to vary wildly. I am pleased for those whose experiences leave them happy but mine have not been great. I suffer mainly from high frequency hearing loss and got NHS aids about 4 years ago. They were helpful in one to one situations and for TV but were no help at all at meetings which was an important aspect for me. I then bought private aids from an independent to whom I was recommended and these improved things a bit. The new aids proved to be unreliable and needed manufacturer repairs more than once. Changes in management lead to less and less interest in solving problems and eventually, when it was suggested that I needed new aids at three times the price I decided to give the NHS another try. I now have new aids which are a little better but discrimination in noisy backgrounds is still a major problem.

Member
Twiglet21 says:
27 October 2014

I just read your article on hearing aids in the November magazine issue and thought that while it’s a good article you when reviewing the different ranges you should point out where NHS hearing aids sit in this range. From an article read on Action on Hearing Loss over the weekend, NHS hearing aids are positioned mid-range – you can’t get high-end/premium ones on the NHS.

While it can be time-consuming to get them in some places, if you are on a budget, it may be worth waiting for NHS ones rather than buying the basic range models. Service/ support with NHS can be variable, my local NHS audiology are great, you have to perservere with them.

Having got an NHS Siemens hearing aid last December, I also looked at the private sector to see what are comparable hearing aids and what features you get with NHS vs the market. The Siemens technology is about 3-5 years old but is still pretty good and definitely in the mid-range. The NHS configures hearing aids with a standard template but if you do your reading up on the internet and find the right audiologist you can get extra features switched on, I found doing this a great help with my hearing aid.