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Hearing aid shops failing customers

Undercover investigation: 43% of visits poor

Ear Dispenser

A joint investigation between Which? and the RNID – the UK’s largest charity for people with hearing loss and deafness – has revealed serious problems at shops selling hearing aids to the public.

Posing as customers, researchers with a hearing loss visited high street stores, including Boots/David Ormerod, Amplifon, Specsavers, Hidden Hearing and The Hearing Company, across England, Scotland and Wales. Four in ten of the visits were rated poor by an expert panel. Only two in ten were rated good.

On one visit to the Hearing Company, one of the UK’s largest retailers, the shop failed to spot the researcher couldn’t hear at all in one ear.

Poor results

We found that a third of the 28 shops we visited failed to ask the right questions to accurately assess researchers’ hearing and rule out treatable problems, such as an ear infection or a more serious tumour on the auditory nerve. Half didn’t ask if the hearing loss started suddenly, and a quarter didn’t ask about dizziness.

Three in ten of the visits showed poor clinical assessment or testing. 

We were also concerned that shops risked breaking the law by misleading researchers about NHS performance in order to promote their own products. One hearing aid outlet told the researcher that it can take months or even years to get hearing aids on the NHS – but the average wait from GP referral to treatment is under 5 weeks.

Worst performer

Our investigation found evidence to suggest that the Hearing Company, one of the UK’s largest retailers, performed worse than other companies. It said: ‘We’re confident the highest standards of customer care are being achieved in our branches but we’re obviously disappointed with the researchers’ findings.’ 

Which? and the RNID will meet with the regulator, the Health Professions Council, to discuss the research and what should be done about it.

Our advice

Peter Vicary-Smith, chief executive of Which?, says: ‘If you’re suffering from hearing loss, don’t be afraid to shop around before you buy and steer clear if you encounter dodgy sales tactics such as badmouthing NHS provision.

High street stores need to up their game if they’re going to continue selling hearing aids – do it properly, or don’t do it at all.’

The full article ‘Hearing Aid Shops Failing Customers’ is in the October 2010 issue of Which?. Not a subscriber yet? Sign up for a £1 trial now.

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