However, only 1 in 10 NHS patients treated for hearing loss is offered a choice of who provides their care, according to Monitor.
The health sector regulator says that more could be done to make patients aware of the services available to them. A review found that patients benefit from improved access and greater control over their care in areas where choice is offered.
Monitor’s report shows that the extension of choice in 2012 resulted in a range of new providers offering new services in new locations. In some cases the cost of each NHS treatment went down by up to 25%. However, some commissioners told Monitor that the overall cost increased because more patients were being seen.
Most patients told Monitor they want to be treated in an NHS hospital, but many were interested in being seen closer to home too, such as a clinic in the GP surgery or on the high street.
Catherine Davies, Executive Director of Co-operation and Competition at Monitor, said:
Overall, we found that patients liked choosing who provided their care. They told us that having a choice made them feel more in control and also allowed them to choose the service that best suited them.
We think that more could be done to make sure that patients are made aware of the services available to them.
The regulator examined how having a choice of NHS hearing loss services affects patients. Its report sets out practical steps commissioners can take to empower patients to make informed choices.
A survey of 1,200 NHS patients found that only 1 in 5 patients have a discussion with their family doctor about the different providers of hearing aids and other treatments available to them.
The survey also found that 8 out of 10 people were satisfied with their NHS-funded hearing aids and 9 out of 10 said they benefited their lifestyle.
Furthermore, 7 out of 10 people who were offered a choice of provider said that they valued it and 8 out of 10 who weren’t offered a choice, would have wanted one.
Paul Breckell, Chief Executive of the UK’s largest hearing loss charity, Action on Hearing Loss, said:
Hearing loss is a serious health condition yet only one in three people who could benefit from hearing aids currently have one.
We completely agree that the NHS needs to do more to make patients aware of the options available to them, but, as audiology units across the country face cuts, it’s crucial that local services are kept or put in place so that local people can get the help they need to address their hearing difficulties.