Hearing Aid History and 70 Years of NHS Hearing Aids

Today we are celebrating 70 years of the National Health Service or as it is belovedly known the 'NHS'.

Even right at the beginning in 1944 a keen interest was given into being able to provide a standard hearing aid for all who needed one via the new National Health Service. Special thought had also been given to soldiers whom had damaged their hearing during military service especially given that world war II had only ended in september of 1945. 

You may be interested to know that by this point in time it was not the ear trumpet. The first NHS hearing aid came about in 1948 with the new developments of the transistor. It was called the Medresco Hearing Aid, its name being derived by the Medical Research Council that funded the hearing aid design and construction. The hearing aid consisted of a body worn microphone that attached to two large batteries and an ear piece via a long tube.  This all came in a pouch to be carried around your neck. It was not small but was also a great breakthrough as this was the first hearing aid to be issued free of charge to the British general public.  A hearing aid such as this is now classed as an antique and can be found in the London Science Museum. This type of hearing aid improved over time and further body worn models followed however they continued to be cumbersome, highly visible and awkward to carry, therefore meant that some never left the pouch they sat in.


Medresco hearing aid

As technology improved between the 1960's and 1990's, this paved way for a more minature sized transistor hearing aid called the 'Analog hearing aid'. A number of commercial markets had started to open up and several companies such as Phonak, Oticon, Widex and GN Resound help pave the way for new advancements. It worked on the basis of picking up sound, translating it into and electrical signal then amplifying it and sending it into your ear. This type of hearing aid allowed for better sound quality than had existed before, an ease of portability and discreetness and no large batteries or wires to carry around. A number of NHS hearing aid models that were particuarly popular for many years were the BE101, BE11, BE38 and BE57.  They required minimal tweaking via an audiologist or hearing aid specialist as no computer was involved. For the hearing aid user the controls consisted of a 'M' for Microphone which ment it was on, 'T' for the Telecoil and O for off. 

analog hearing aid

The key problems experienced when using an analog hearing aid included poor background noise filtration and speech perception and the hearing aids lacked a personalised approach, which ment further improvements were still needed. A number of NHS hearing aid models that were particuarly popular for many years were the BE101, BE38 and BE57.

It was at the turn of the twentieth century that we saw the digital era come into play. 1996 saw the first digital hearing aid appear on the market including digital signal processing chips technology. By 2000 digital hearing aids could be programmed and then by 2005 digital hearing aids had taken over the analog hearing aid scene with many appointments in the NHS audiology departments conducting analog to digital review and transition appointments. Hearing aids were now programmed via a computer, using software and individual prescriptions of a persons hearing needs could be met more specifically than ever before.

nathos s+m digital hearing aid

After over a decade of digital hearing aids being supplied on the NHS there have been many changes. Advances in wireless and bluetooth technology, directionality of sound and speech in noise have come along way. Keeping up with the evergrowing smart phone era has been paramount to their success and has required hearing aids to now perform more like a computer than what once was a simple an ear trumpet. Today's hearing aids need to tackle a great deal in 21st century living with higher numbers of NHS hearing aid users than ever before. We wish you a very welcomed happy birthday to the NHS!

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