One of the major success stories of the last few years has been the huge growth in the Irish hearing care sector.

The graph below shows that between 2006 and 2014, the number of hearing aids sold in Ireland annually hovered between 30-40,000. Then, in 2014 (exactly the point at which the Irish economy began to recover after the economic downturn) there was a sudden rise to 51,000 units sold per year. The BIHIMA annual results published earlier this year showed that, in 2016, the Irish figure was up by a third from pre-2014 days, at 55,000.

It is worth noting that Ireland has a different hearing care model than the UK. The UK has a growing private sector but, as in other countries such as Denmark and Norway, the majority of hearing care is provided by the NHS, free of charge, and the patient has limited freedom of choice in the hearing solution offered.

Ireland, on the other hand, has a free market model (similarly to Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland) where the state funds some of the cost of hearing aids so that a basic solution can be nearly free of charge – and the patient then “tops up” this cost (this is except for medical card holders, those on very low income, who are eligible for all hearing care free of charge). For Irish workers and pensioners who have paid the required PRSI (national insurance) contributions, the government will pay for half the cost of a hearing aid up to a fixed maximum of €500, every 4 years, which the patient can then “top up” according to their choice of hearing aid.

The increased momentum in the Irish economy, leading to improved earnings for individuals and an injection of funds into the Irish healthcare system, has meant that these routes to accessing hearing care have been energised – hence the rapid growth in market exhibited by the BIHIMA annual results.

Research produced last year by our European counterpart, EHIMA – research based on the “EuroTrak survey” which interviewed 9205 people across 7 European countries – shows that there are positive and negatives to the different models of hearing care provision modelled by the UK and Ireland. Within the state funded (UK) model, the uptake of hearing aid provision is higher because there is no financial barrier to access. However, the data also showed that hearing aids are used more actively by users in the free market (Irish) model, and that customer satisfaction is also higher (80% satisfied users in the free market versus 71% for the state model), as well as measurements of quality of life experienced by hearing aid users (self-confidence, for example, was recorded at 60% in the free market versus 43% within the state model).

Clearly there is room for both models to be opitmised in order to achieve better results, both in terms of access and quality for hearing aid users.

The full Market Statistics report for 2016 can be found here.