NHS Hearing Aids

You can get a free hearing aid on the NHS rather than buying one privately. This option is available to anyone who receives a referral from their GP.

The range of hearing aids available on the NHS is much more limited than when you purchase one privately. In most cases you are only offered a bulky behind-the-ear (BTE) style.

The Any Qualified Provider (AQP) scheme enables you to receive hearing aids from a private hearing aid specialist, but paid for by the NHS.

How Do You Receive Free Hearing Aids On The NHS?

Anyone that is eligible to care on the NHS can receive free hearing aids. You first need to make an appointment with your GP who will discuss your hearing concerns, check your ears for any medical problems or wax build-up and will ask you questions related to your hearing.

If they detect a need for a hearing aid, your GP will refer you to a hearing specialist, who will fit and supply you with a free digital hearing aid and give you all the relevant advice you need.

The hearing specialist that you go to see following your referral could be your local NHS audiology department, which may operate at the local hospital itself or a clinic location. It could also be a high street hearing aid chain such as Amplifon, Boots or Specsavers. During this appointment, the hearing specialist will give you a hearing test, ask you some background questions, discuss your results with you and finally will help you select your digital hearing aids.

NHS Hearing Aids Versus Private Hearing Aids

There are many more options in terms of hearing aid types on the private market compared to when you go through the NHS. The difference in the range of hearing aids provided can be seen in the table below:

Type of Hearing Aid NHS Private
Behind-the-ear (BTE)
Receiver in-the-ear (RITE)
In-the-ear (ITE)
In-the-canal (ITC)
Completely in-the-canal (CIC)

On the NHS, there is much less choice with the type of hearing aid you will be issued. It will most likely be a large BTE model with an earmould or open-fit, although some hospitals do offer patients RITE hearing aids but only for clinical reasons.

nhs versus private hearing aid

Private hearing aid providers stock a much wider range of hearing aids, including much smaller and more discreet styles such as ITC, CIC and invisible models. These are more sophisticated in technology and design, and are better suited to those who are self-conscious about wearing a hearing aid as they are significantly less visible on the ear than the BTE type.

This image shows the clear difference in the style of hearing aid provided on the NHS (left) compared to privately (right).

The individual on the left is wearing a large BTE model issued as standard on the NHS, whereas the person on the right is wearing a much smaller and significantly more hidden ITC model available through private hearing aid retailers.

In this video, Poonam Patel, Hearing Aid Audiologist for Amplifon, discusses with us the key differences between NHS and privately purchased hearing aids:


Are There Any Differences In Service Between NHS And Private Hearing Aid Providers?

The table below shows the difference in service between getting your hearing aid on the NHS and at a private hearing aid retailer:

Service NHS Private
RHAD Accredited Audiologists
Home Visits
Short Waiting Times
Newest Technology
Free Aftercare

While both the NHS and private hearing specialists provide access to RHAD accredited audiologists registered with the Health and Care Professions Council to help you manage your hearing loss, the speed at which you obtain your hearing aids varies significantly between the two.

Unlike buying a hearing aid privately and receiving it within two weeks following a consultation with a hearing specialist, the waiting time for hearing aids on the NHS can be up to 18 weeks from your initial GP appointment. Getting a hearing aid on the NHS may not be suitable therefore for those who need a hearing solution urgently.

audiologist fitting a hearing aid in an ear

From 2015, the NHS also began rationing the number of hearing aids it issued to patients in a bid to save money. Many local NHS trusts across the UK now deny patients with mild hearing loss access to hearing aids, and in many cases prescribe only one hearing aid to individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss who need two.

Some people may use the NHS to trial a style of hearing aid before purchasing them privately. However, many private providers offer ‘try before you buy’ trial periods, in which you can take away and wear a hearing aid for up to 14 days to test how well it suits your lifestyle before you make the purchase.

Alternatively, providers also offer money back guarantee periods of at least 28 days if you decide the hearing aid is not right for you after buying it. This means that it is no longer necessary to use the NHS to test which hearing aid is best for you.

Private hearing aid providers also offer free home visits if it is difficult for you to travel to your nearest hearing specialist. You will not have access to this service on the NHS unless you have a letter from your GP deeming you unfit to travel.

Hearing aids issued through the NHS often do not come with the most up-to-date technology, such as wireless Bluetooth connectivity. Purchasing a hearing aid from a private provider grants you much more access to the newest technology, which can enable you to get the most out of your hearing aids.

Both offer patients free aftercare for their hearing aids including follow-up appointments and servicing. It is important to know that despite NHS hearing aids being free, you may receive a charge from them if you lose your hearing aid which can be costly.

Can You Get Free Hearing Aids But Use A Private Provider?

The Any Qualified Provider (AQP) scheme enables you to get your hearing aids from a private hearing specialist but still paid for by the NHS. These providers will have undergone the process of accreditation by the NHS.

Private hearing aid specialists like Boots or Specsavers are part of this programme and can provide you with a hearing test, two NHS digital hearing aids and full aftercare.

There are certain conditions which have to be met to qualify for the AQP scheme, however: you must have suspected age-related hearing loss with no other complications and in some cases you need to be 55 or older. The scheme is also only available in some areas. Your GP will be able to advise you on whether you could have access to the AQP scheme.