NHS hearing aids to private: my journey so far

I recently made the transition from the National Health Service (NHS) to the private sector after much consideration over the last two years largely due to cost and whether it would actually improve anything over what I had with the NHS.  The NHS has been a lifeline to many millions of people like myself by providing services such as hearing aids for free. Without the NHS, I would not be alive today nor be able to hear.

Transition from NHS hearing aids to private

The History of Me

But despite the positives, I felt it was lacking in resources and support especially for young adults like myself as we make the transition from paediatric audiology into adult audiology. My hearing has been cared for by the NHS since I was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss in 1985, almost one year after my premature birth in 1984. After many years of enjoyable visits in paediatric audiology, I became of age and I was transferred over to the adult audiology department at the age of twenty-three, albeit rather reluctantly.

 

Sitting in the waiting room for my first appointment and observing my surroundings, I realised that I was surrounded by stereotypically elderly patients also waiting for their appointments. It seemed more clinical and the personal touch was no longer there. The audiologists were struggling to see patients within their scheduled appointment times and were seemingly pressurised by the constraints of their roles combined with a lack of resources.

 

However, I persevered as I was still under the care of a consultant in audiological medicine following my sudden hearing drop two years earlier at the age of twenty-one and they were monitoring my hearing closely. I now had severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss and my high frequency range had decreased substantially into the profound range. Further investigations determined my sudden loss as idiopathic.

 

StreamerPro: A whole new world

Oticon Streamer ProHearing aids in the NHS are of course not as advanced and are limited compared to what is available in the private sector. Again, perhaps due to a combination of unsuitable hearing aids and lack of understanding, some fittings ended in disaster. Evenstill, I was successfully fitted with Oticon Spirit Synergy Power hearing aids six-years ago and soon discovered Oticon had a remarkable device called the Streamer Pro.

 

I would require to be fitted with the wireless version of my hearing aids, so I was referred back to audiology and was fitted a few weeks later. Despite being the same model, the wireless version of the Oticon Spirit Synergy Power hearing aids were a slight improvement in terms of clarity. I looked at the audiologist in confusion as I heard something I had not heard before; it was the extractor fan. A whole new world began to open up to me with the latest technology in the NHS. I was also able to use the telephone at work more confidently using my Streamer Pro and I was delighted.

 

Increasingly Isolated

It isn’t all positive though. As I have aged, my hearing has stabilised yet my uneasiness at the lack of support provided had grown. Increasingly I was feeling isolated with my hearing care. After being discharged from the care of audiological medicine, this only deteriorated. I was informed that I would now be required to go to my GP to get a referral back to audiology if I wanted an appointment to have a check up or to get new ear moulds. This was exasperating and somewhat disconcerting considering my long hearing history.

 

Now at the age of thirty-two, I felt as if I barely knew anything about my hearing loss and care. Appointments were over in a blink of an eye after such long waiting times. The audiologist would robotically go through the motions as if you were just another product on the conveyor belt, through no fault of their own. It was just the system.

 

A New Journey

Although we are incredibly lucky to have the NHS, I started to wonder if there was anything else out there that I could have access to. Feeling somewhat optimistic, I came across one Facebook post. I commented intrigued about this latest technology and pondering if it would ever be within my reach. That comment evolved into e-mail correspondence with my prospective new audiologist and I began to feel more valued as well as more hopeful about embarking on a new journey with my hearing.

 

As I made that significant and tentative step of booking a hearing assessment in the private sector, my first introduction into what the private sector had to offer was ear moulds. I had issues with my NHS silicone ear moulds and therefore decided to explore what the private sector offered.

 

Before my hearing assessment, I went to have ear impressions made. It was not inexpensive but I was able to justify it. The new moulds would last more than three years and I considered the investment worthwhile after considering the waiting time for referral back in to the NHS audiology department.

 

Comparing the private sector and the NHS,

Old NHS ear mould
Old NHS ear mould

It was a revelation. The care and information I was given was beyond anything I could have imagined and for the first time, I even saw inside my ears! I was advised on the different types of ear moulds and considering the issues I was having, I was recommended Thermotec moulds made by Egger, a German manufacturer. They were so meticulous when taking my ear impressions and paid attention to the finer detail.

New private ear moulds
New ear moulds

Two weeks later, I attended my hearing assessment and was also fitted with my new moulds. They were effectively transparent. For the first time, I did not feel as if I had ear moulds in my ears and I also had thinner tubing, which was declined to me in the NHS. Yet another revelation.

 

 

 

 

The hearing assessment was such a positive experience and I felt I gained more knowledge and understanding about my hearing than I ever have had with the NHS. The time and detail that was taken was priceless. Of course, if audiology services in the NHS had the resources and were not so stretched, I would like to think more time and detail would be taken. This would result in a more positive experience for people of all ages who are unable to access the private sector due to financial constraints.

The Next Step

The next step in my hearing journey is looking at the latest hearing technology available and one such possibility is trying the new addition to the Oticon OPN family with the Power BTE, which is due for release in late April and I, for one, cannot wait.

Private hearing aid mould
Egger Thermotic
About Vicki Nielsen 1 Article
Vicki Nielsen has bilateral sensorineural severe to profound hearing loss and is an experienced hearing aid user. Vicki has recently transitioned from the NHS into the private sector and will be sharing her hearing journey as she experiences the latest hearable technology on offer. Her opinions are her own.

5 Comments

  1. I have found that the NHS audiologist team at Southend fantastic, l have just been fitted with the Opticon spirit synergy, the heating test was far superior to my private experience.
    The AIDS are excellent and subtitles are OFF.

    • We are very pleased to hear you had such a positive experience with the Southend team. They are an incredible team of people and I’m sure they would be honoured to hear you singing their praises.

  2. I have just read the above having returned from Stoke Mandeville Hospital with brand new Oticon Spirit Synergy aids.
    My hearing had deteriorated some 3 years ago when I was given a previous Oticon product.
    Following an ear infection last summer my hearing deteriorated again and I went for a retest.
    First impressions of the new aids is very good, definitely a significant improvement.
    My visit today confirms my previous impression of the hospital audiology dept, fantastic service! I was seen on time and the lady took time to listen and had read up on my previous history. I was treated politely and even asked if I was ok for time, I certainly was not rushed out the door.
    Three cheers for the NHS 😀
    I also learnt that the rules have now changed in that I can go back direct any time in next 3 years without asking doctor for referral

    • Thank you for sharing your journey. It is great to read you have had a pleasant experience and demonstrates the professionalism of the audiologists involved. If ever you wanted to share more about your experience with your hearing please feel free to message me and I’ll post your article.

  3. Hi Vicki,
    Great to read the story of your journey so far. I have worn NHS Oticon Spirit 3 hearing aids for several years and they are very good. I’ve recently been looking into what might be the best mobile phone for me as have struggled with hearing on mobiles for so long. Am now interested in getting an Apple iphone – I found out that their accessibility for deaf and hard of hearing customers is very impressive. However, it seems, only certain makes and types of hearing aids are ‘iphone enabled’. There are quite a few mind you and they’re listed on the Apple website but am not sure yet how many of them can actually be got on the NHS. Now seeing that you have mentioned Oticon OPN I wonder if and am hoping that I might be able to get these, as they are on the Apple list

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