The British and Irish Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (BIHIMA) has released the combined annual results of its members and the data reveals a striking trend in the way people are accessing hearing technology. NHS provision of hearing instruments via the private sector is growing much faster than hospital provision, demonstrating a shift in supply towards the high street.

Private sector distribution on behalf of the NHS – through AQPs (Any Qualified Providers) – is up by over 250,000 in the past five years, whilst hospital distribution remains largely static (see graph, appendix iii). In 2016, private suppliers delivered nearly a quarter of all NHS hearing aids.

“We are very interested in this trend towards public provision through private suppliers,” said BIHIMA chairman Paul Surridge. “We hope it reflects the fact that there is growing awareness about hearing loss which is at the heart of BIHIMA’s mission. We hope the high street will help show that hearing loss is not a niche problem and will help reach the 11 million people in the UK (that’s 1 in 6 people) who are affected.”

The results also show that the hearing instrument market in the UK and Ireland is continuing to expand, a trend which is partly due to the ageing population. There has been solid growth in both NHS and private unit sales, at the higher end of the estimated world growth rates. Annual unit sales have increased by over 400,000 in the past five years (see appendix i) so that the number of units sold in 2016 was 1,668,887 – 1,371,428 through the NHS and 297,459 through the private sector.

It is also encouraging to see particular growth in the Irish market (see appendix ii), which is evidence of the momentum in the Irish economic recovery following the 2008-2011 financial crisis.

The figures also reveal some other interesting trends, such as the increasing uptake of RITE (receiver in the ear) technology within the private market. Since the inception of this technology in 2006, RITE instruments have come to hold a position of dominance, and use of BTE (behind the ear) technology is shown to be in steady decline (see appendix iv).

Finally, the results show that there is increasing awareness among consumers about the benefits of binaural solutions (instruments worn in both ears). Within the private sector in 2016, 75% of all custom made units sold were binaural. This is also evidence of the constantly improving binaural technology pioneered by our members and the wider hearing industry (see appendix v).


– BIHIMA represents the hearing instrument manufacturers of Britain and Ireland. We work in partnership with other professional, trade, regulatory and consumer organisations within the health care and charitable sectors. We raise consumer awareness about the latest hearing technology, and aim to influence government and policy makers to improve the lives of people with hearing difficulties.

– These results show the combined figures of all UK and Ireland hearing instruments units sold between 2005 and 2016. Additional graphs show trends in distribution and product choice.

View the full Market Statistics report here.

Private sector public provision (through AQP) continues to grow faster than the hospital provision in England/Wales