Article written by Jane Varker and Jan Williams, from West Cornwall HealthWatch

Published 05/10/20

During these times of unprecedented anxiety about the Covid19 virus and keeping ourselves and others safe, it may seem perverse that West Cornwall HealthWatch campaigners are concerning themselves with ‘ear wax’ and its removal. However, this is a health issue that affects many residents in Penwith and Kerrier and throughout the county. People from all walks of life and all ages can suffer temporary deafness from impacted ear wax and being unable to hear properly has a serious effect on a person’s well being. The elderly as always are disproportionately affected. Deafness, even if only temporary, exacerbates social isolation, a phenomenon becoming even more problematic due to the current need for shielding and social distancing. To make matters worse, the majority of GP, nurse and hospital consultations are now by phone.

Until very recently, the solution was fairly simple. You rang your local surgery. They advised you to use some kind of eardrops to soften the wax for up to 21 days and then gave you an appointment to see a nurse in the surgery to have your ears cleared. This service has now been withdrawn from some if not most our local GP practices, with patients being advised to find a private practitioner. One 90 year old is making an 80 mile round trip from Penzance, on the advice of her GP practice, to have her ears cleared of wax. This will cost between £60 and £80, plus travelling!

The surgery may provide you with a list of private providers but do not guarantee their competence, advising patients to make their own enquiries and judgement about the service provider and qualifications of the individual carrying out the procedure!

It is a shocking state of affairs when GPs absolve themselves of responsibility, expecting patients to pay, travel, and check the safety of a private provider. How many people will suffer from long term deafness because they can’t afford to pay and travel for ear wax removal?

Ameliorating the side effects of blocked ears, such as deafness, ringing in the ears and vertigo, by safely removing impacted earwax, under sterile conditions by a trained practitioner in local surgeries, fits perfectly into a preventative health strategy. Over the last five years NHS Kernow, which commissions health services for Cornwall, has been pursuing a preventative policy, with patients actively encouraged to maintain their own wellbeing.

We are lobbying NHS Kernow about the risk of withdrawal of this service; under NICE guidelines they should ensure the commissioning of services with the appropriate equipment, capacity and expertise, to carry out earwax removal for adults in primary (GP) or community care. There seems to be an unfortunate parallel here with the Covid19 Test and Track system. Both are apparently expecting elderly and sick people to travel long distances to access these services, and both are now part of a rapidly expanding privatised sector.

Do contact us with your experiences of ear wax removal, so we can build a clear picture of the extent of the problems being experienced here in West Cornwall.

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