NHS campaigners representing Banbury have lashed out at Oxfordshire health bosses' withdrawal of a service that can prevent deafness

Keep Our Public NHS Oxfordshire (KONPOX) said thousands in the county will have to choose between deafness and paying for the basic ear wax removal.

By Roseanne Edwards
Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 10:33 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 10:34 am
People will have to pay for ear wax removal under new rules proposed by Oxfordshire NHS bosses, unless they get a referral for hearing loss. Picture by Getty
People will have to pay for ear wax removal under new rules proposed by Oxfordshire NHS bosses, unless they get a referral for hearing loss. Picture by Getty

And they have demanded reinstatement of the service in the NHS.

Secretary of the group, Bill MacKeith said: "Every year, wax builds up in the ears of thousands of people across the county, adversely affecting their hearing, ability to communicate and general well-being. Until recently, nurses in GP surgeries offered ear-syringing to treat this very common condition. Now, however, very few if any GPs in Oxfordshire offer to clear ear wax and patients are having to pay anything up to over £100 to have their ears cleared privately - usually by microsuction.

"Yet another free NHS service is disappearing, enabling private profit for shareholders to take precedence over the right to tax-funded healthcare free at the point of use."

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissiing Group (CCG) said National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance recommends 'self-care' for ear wax and that pharmacists can assist. The group said a new service for people needing hearing assessment would begin in December.

KONPOX said a report on ear wax removal by the watchdog Oxfordshire Healthwatch, to be published tomorrow (Thursday) is expected to expose the 'dire lack of provision'.

"The CCG has informed the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee of Oxfordshire County Council (HOSC) a newly commissioned audiology service.. will include ear wax clearing free of charge for patients over 55 (referred by their GP or self-referred) suffering from age-related hearing loss, who require a hearing assessment.

"It excludes all under-55s and people over 55 whose deafness is caused simply by build-up of wax. Papers .. show the service was being commissioned without any clear idea of the demand or of patients’ wishes."

Maggie Winters of KONPOX said: "Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group should have consulted patients and the public before this cut in services. What does OCCG propose for people who cannot afford to pay for treatment?

"Official NHSE guidance is clear that hearing loss needs to be properly addressed. This can only be done with a free and easily accessible service for ear wax removal. The obvious setting for this is the GP surgery. The service should be included in the national GP contract. In the meantime, OCCG should work with GPs to decide how best to organise GP wax removal services – for example through the newly formed Primary Care Networks – and commission them accordingly. The necessary staff must be recruited and trained.

"We do not agree that the new contract is in line with national policy. The implication in the new contract is that people are expected to self-fund where only ear wax removal is required. There is inbuilt discrimination against people whose hearing loss is due simply to the build-up of wax with consequent impact on those with lower incomes. This is contrary to the policy of reducing inequalities."

A mother of a 15-year-old, speaking in a KONP report on the subject, said: "Since when should children have to pay for ear wax removal? There is no guarantee that items sold on the internet won’t could damage the ear. NHS advice is not to insert anything into the ear but what are people to do when no safe service is provided by the NHS?"

Rhys Hamilton, a retired Oxfordshire GP said: "The OCCG have realised that what used to be provided ‘for free’ (that is, as part of the GP contract) is going to cost them. They seem desperate to avoid having to pay for the second group of those who are deaf just because of wax build up."

KONPO also criticised the CCG for failing to answer a Freedom of Information Request about the discriminatory contract for ear wax removal treatment in the county, on grounds of ‘commercial confidentiality’.

Mr MacKeith said: "We are being strung along like puppets. The contract, which is discriminatory, was supposed to start on October 1- what's the delay and why the secrecy? This is public money being spent and some of it is going to private shareholders."

Diane Hedges, deputy chief executive at OCCG, said: “The NICE guidance: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng98 recommends self-care for people with blocked ears due to wax. Self-care and pharmacist advice is effective in the majority of people and GP practices have comprehensive information which is given to patients. People also have the option to get ear wax removed via by micro-suction but this procedure is not routinely offered free by the NHS.

“We understand the distress caused by hearing loss, especially among older people. As such our planned care team has been re-procuring a new adult hearing service for age-related hearing loss. This service will be available across Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire and will include ear wax removal for older people who need it for a hearing assessment or referral into secondary care, provided they have undertaken two weeks self-management of ear wax in line with the primary care guidance.

“The new service was expected to be in place in October 2021 but there has been a slight delay, so we are now anticipating a start date of December 1 2021. The service will also see the introduction of self-referral for hearing assessment so patients can access the it without a GP appointment and referral.

“At the time of the FOI submission by the campaign group, we were legally unable to release details due to commercial confidentiality and the duties this places on us as we tender and let service provider contracts. We hope to be able to release the details shortly.”

* NHS online guidance says patients should see their GP practice 'if your symptoms have not cleared after five days and your ear is badly blocked and you cannot hear anything (you can get an infection if it has not cleared)'.