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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
Profile photo of alfa
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.

Member
Dickie says:
28 October 2014

I read the comment by ‘Twiglet21’ with considerable interest. I think that I have what would be described as ‘high end’ aids, because they have many of the features described in the Which article, though not all, and were bought privately. Even at this level so much depends on the skill and training of the audiologist – some seem to be learning ‘as they go along’. Their skill as is important as the quality of the aids!

Profile photo of Joanna Pearl
Member

Yes, these are good points made by Twiglet21 and Dickie. NHS hearing aids are generally mid-range and are – as I understand it – generally ‘last-year’s model’, so maybe not the most up to date but certainly the same aids you would get privately.

I also agree that it’s down to the skill of the audiology staff. Thats’ why we don’t test the actual hearing aids: we know that they are basically a toolkit in a box, and pretty much the same from manufacturer to manufacturer, albeit that the names of features are different. When our USA counterparts tested them, they found not a lot of difference in performance.

We have a guide – most of which is free – and I’m always interested to know what else we should have in there to be of best benefit. Here is the link…http://www.which.co.uk/home-and-garden/staying-independent-at-home/guides/how-to-get-the-best-hearing-aid/

Member
tony shadforth says:
4 November 2014

I found your survey helpful in that you recommended independent suppliers for those wishing to buy aids. I turned to Hidden Hearing after finding NHS aids unsatisfactory, and this worked well for me.
But I do question the comment that aids are pretty much the same regardless of manufacturer. Despite relying on US experience, I feel Which? should grasp the nettle and analyse the performance of these alternative and comparable ‘toolboxes’.

Member
Emma Kyle says:
6 November 2014

Not getting any help from two different sets of NHS hearing aids I went to Amplifon , happy to pay if my hearing was restored. I was tested with no hearing aids then with the NHS aids and was told that the test results were identical. A pair of Amplifon aids were adjusted to suit me and I was told the test had improved dramatically and the cost was £2,800 the pair.
Having been to lip-reading classes I knew that there are some sounds one can never hear so I asked for the first test to be repeated – and the results were the same as my hearing without any aids.
Beware – all they want is your money, whether your hearing is improved is irrelevant. Remember the first half dozen words/numbers of the first test and ask for it to be repeated.

Member
Lessismore says:
14 November 2014

We found that getting a hearing aid for a blind parent quite difficult. It is very difficult for him that it comes apart so easily so he is always in fear of it dropping down the loo and of treading on it. The NHS audiologist was very good with him though. He would have trouble with two as he would not know how to tell them apart.

Another parent however would have really gained from having someone help her to get used to them. Lack of them meant that she never knew what the doctor and nurses and consultants were talking about and the use of them would have helped not just her but all those people she was going to visit. It is a false economy denying and not helping people who are deaf to find and get used to hearing aids. The RNID I believe has or tries to have a service of volunteers who help and encourage people to get used to hearing aids. Please support them doing this!

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

I am glad that private hearing aids work for many people but not in my case. AS someone with congenital hearing loss (runs in the family) I have both conductive hearing loss and nerve damage. I am at present on the largest NHS ones available with the gain in the right ear turned up to the hearing limit without distortion (as watch on a NHS flatscreen PC) .Nothing more can be done for my right ear except an operation which (dragging the truth out ) either works or leaves me with ZERO hearing in my right ear . I have the same large Siemens hearing aid in my left ear and have been told I will now have to rely on this left ear for my hearing . ALL those small /nice /upmarket/pricey private hearing aids dont help me with my massive hearing loss . A new NHS small model came out and I asked to try it the audiologist looked at me,shook his head and said =Mr Lucas those small hearing aids would squeal with oscillation if tried in your ear because they could not obtain the volume required by your ears. I asked for the truth and they told me so thankfully all those with lesser hearing loss should be grateful they can hear well with their hearing aids I cant . I paid 44 years of NI stamps and appreciate the service which the government is trying to privatise (33% in England so far, a lot less in Scotland )

Member
Lessismore says:
25 March 2015

I was very disappointed to find out that there appears to be no regular recall for hearing tests.

This isn’t necessarily easy either for the housebound as the ears need to be clear
of wax beforehand and it is difficult to get anyone to visit to check beforehand. There should be a whole body problem check organised for those who can’t get out and about.

Various Councils are reducing their audiology help. Some are only allowing one hearing aid. Making it difficult for people to hear and consequently converse fluently causes other problems including increased isolation, problems ordering the weekly frozen food delivery and more. If it wasn’t hearing it would be called very short-sighted as it is likely to mean more of a problem for social services and the health care services.

Profile photo of wattling
Member

I have read your review of buying a private hearing aid and the advice that an independent company would be best. I live in the Glasgow area and am at a loss in how to identify a private company.
I did have a personal call from Age UK whose audiologist impressed me.I was advised to have an ear syringed and call them again,but they do not now have anybody in this area.
Any advice?

Profile photo of PJA
Member

Having just had a hearing test at Boots ( very helpful )plus a NHS test previously ( hearing aids required borderline ), I thought to use Which to check which ( not a pun) makes of aids came out best for frequency range and quality.
With this information on all makes I could then make sure I was not paying a premium to help service a high st location.
I am disappointed that the Which report does not cover the technical advantages of one make of aid over another make or identify all the makes tested.

Profile photo of duncan lucas
Member

PJA -The problem is and I am profoundly deaf is that hearing loss is a very personal thing there isnt one exact model that covers every situation. If light deafness you have a vast range that would suite but the more deaf you are the more the field narrows down . IN ear aids are okay but not for more serious cases of deafness ,external ones with just a tube lack low frequencies and cannot be used -due to feedback as the gain has to be very high I know I tried them all . The NHS Audiologist actually showed me what a small hearing aid sounded like in my ear low volume squealing only the largest Siemens ones available with a full size insert would do . It would take a long webpage for Which to detail what each make did under differing customers hearing ability there isnt one size fits in audio health so comparisons would mean a lot of research covering all variables.

Member
Strata says:
29 May 2016

I would love to have a comparison of hearing aids, particularly having read that since Phonak have moved to manufacturing in China, there have been various issues of them not working properly after a short time.

Member
Neelam Taneja says:
2 October 2016

Would really appreciate if Which? were to evalution and compartive study of hearing aids.

Member
Geoff says:
9 February 2017

I am also surprised Which has not done a report on different Brands, Suppliers, Models, Prices and so on.

Member
joanne dixey says:
2 August 2017

Yes I too wanted to see a comparison on the brands. So confusing. I have been a hearing aid wearer for many years. I am trying to decide on my next set – its a total nightmare due to the amount of competition in the market. I am doing my research as best I can but the biggest problem is the lack of prices and which is the best manufacturer. I have just joined which for a trial, but I am disappointed that the information that I require is not available here