Health and Social Care (HSC) Trusts provide hearing aids on loan, for free, and also maintains them free of charge. You also have the right to have your hearing assessed.
You may have a wax build-up or an infection which has temporarily affected your hearing and which can be treated by your local doctor (GP).
Otherwise, your local doctor should refer you to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) or audiology department in a hospital to see an ENT surgeon and an audiologist.
Dependent on the arrangements in your local area, if you are over 60 your doctor may send you as a 'direct referral' to the audiology or ENT department.
Some GPs arrange for audiology staff to visit their surgery or health centre to run a clinic, so you may be able to get an assessment of your hearing at your local surgery or health centre instead of at a hospital.
Types of hearing aid
The Health and Social Care Trust can supply hearing aids that are:
- worn in the ear or behind the ear
- body-worn, with an earphone in the ear
- bone conduction, with sound conducted through the skull
- CROS and BiCROS hearing aids: a CROS hearing aid picks up sound from the side with no hearing and feeds it to your hearing ear: a BiCROS aid amplifies sound from both sides and feeds it to your hearing ear
You can't get disposable hearing aids on the Health Service and you can't usually get the tiny hearing aids that fit completely in the ear canal.
You can't get financial help from the Health Service to buy a hearing aid privately. But, if you choose to buy a hearing aid privately, you are still entitled to a Health Service hearing aid.
Cochlear implants are suitable only for people with profound deafness whose hearing nerves are still functional.
The Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), in future, will produce the Health Service hearing aid booklets to help you use your aid. It also produces many factsheets on hearing aids and products for deaf and hard of hearing people.
There are also several other voluntary organisations for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
As part of an ENT assessment, your ears will be examined for obvious signs of damage or disease and you will be asked about your medical history.
An audiologist will test your hearing and also discuss the type of hearing aid that may be suitable for you.
There will be a separate appointment to fit your hearing aid.