NHS Hearing Aids - Free but at What Price?

By Hearingaids.co.uk, PRNE
Tuesday, February 22, 2011

PRESTON, England, February 23, 2011 - In the UK we are fortunate enough to have a free provision of hearing
aids (www.hearingaid.org.uk/) by way of the NHS. Over the last few
years, the NHS has switched from analogue to digital hearing aids
(www.hearingaid.org.uk/) for the majority of patients. These hearing
instruments are of a reasonable quality and are programmed to match the
patients hearing loss. Fantastic! I hear you say, but there's perhaps a
little more to this situation than meets the eye.

In order for a hearing impaired person to achieve the maximum benefit
from hearing instruments, there are several bases that need consideration:


Hearing aid manufacturers are producing fantastic new technology at an
amazing rate. Unfortunately this technology takes a long time to reach the
hands of the NHS audiologist. This is as a result of the processes involved
in getting new hearing instruments made available the NHS. This is in no way
a criticism of the NHS. I can appreciate that a huge organization such as the
NHS requires time to evoke changes - especially if new technology is emerging
thick and fast. New products require training for the audiologist to make the
most of the new features. The manufacturers simply would not have the
capacity to train an organization the size of the NHS on an on-going basis.
The result is the hearing impaired NHS patient cannot receive the best
technology available.


New technology hearing instruments typically carry a higher price tag.
Hearing aid manufacturers are not charities and they need to recoup their
research and development costs - and make a profit to keep their shareholders
at bay.


Many hearing impaired people put off getting hearing aids as there is
still a stigma attached to wearing them. The ultimate motivation for them to
do something is when their hearing loss becomes truly unbearable for them and
their friends and family. If patients were offered more cosmetic solutions
then they would be more likely to do something sooner rather than later. No
matter how amazing the technology or how "free" it is makes little difference
if someone simply won't the hearing aids. The NHS mainly offers standard
behind-the-ear hearing aids with a quite noticeable plastic earpiece.

Reprogramming and fine tuning

Virtually all hearing aids available today, be they private or NHS, are
digital and programmable. This means that the hearing aids can be
reprogrammed to match the hearing loss as and when the hearing deteriorates.
Unfortunately, the NHS simply do not have the capacity to retest, reprogram
and fine tune hearing aids on an on-going basis. This service is one of the
benefits of seeking a private hearing aid dispenser. This is perhaps the most
important aspect of delivering the maximum benefit from wearing hearing aids
which is sadly overlooked in the public sector.

The NHS in the UK is the largest single purchaser of hearing aids in the
world - not just the UK. The price of private hearing aids in the UK is
amongst the highest in the world. The 2 facts are intrinsically linked. Most
people get their "free" NHS hearing aid and never go privately. The result is
that the private market is shrunk. The private hearing aid retailers are
therefore left fighting over a relatively small market. In order to attract
these clients they need to invest heavily in marketing which results in the
prices of the hearing aids being inflated. In other countries where there is
little or no public provision, prices of private hearing aids are
substantially lower.

So what is the solution? If we do away with a free provision then the
poorer people may not be able to afford the hearing aids that they need. I
don't believe this is an option. If we stay as we are then

a) The latest technology will be very expensive (as it is now) and will
only be available to the select few.

b) Cosmetic solutions will remain out of the reach of most people.

c) On going fine tuning and rehabilitation will remain the domain of the
private consumer.

In my opinion, the best solution would be to adopt a system used in other
countries such as the Republic of Ireland. My recommendation would be to
provide vouchers to every patient to redeem with a private hearing aid
dispenser. The value should be that of the cost of fitting and maintaining a
modest pair of hearing aids. If the patient wanted better technology then
they could pay the difference. I have no doubt that the spare capacity
currently within the private sector, added to the inevitable spare staff from
the NHS would deliver more than enough service. The increased volume of
private sales coupled with the reduced marketing costs would serve to drive
down the costs of private hearing aids in the UK. This would enable more
people to afford better technology. Everyone would benefit from on-going
aftercare and free hearing instruments would still be available to those that
wanted them. I understand that proposals like this have been put forward in
the past. Sadly, I believe these suggestions fell on deaf ears.

For more information about hearing aids and the various makes and models
available, view our website at www.hearingaid.org.uk/

    Beige Banana Ltd.
    9 Lower Bank Road
    PR2 8NS
    United Kingdom
    Telephone: +44-(0)800-567-7621
    Email: info@hearingaid.org.uk

Beige Banana Ltd., 9 Lower Bank Road, Fulwood, Preston, Lancashire, PR2 8NS, United Kingdom, Telephone: +44-(0)800-567-7621, Email: info at hearingaid.org.uk

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