A hearing charity has called for a review of earwax removal within primary and community care after research revealed that less than half of integrated care boards (ICBs) provide the service in line with public health guidelines.
According to figures from the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), 2.3 million people in the UK require professional earwax removal every year.
However, the charity’s research found that seven ICB areas do not commission earwax removal at all, affecting access for 9.8 million people.
The charity’s freedom of information requests to all 42 ICBs in England revealed that 18 fully commission earwax removal services in line with guidelines from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE).
Partial services are offered by 15 ICBs, with the majority providing earwax removal only within limited areas inside their geographical footprint.
In some areas where the service is commissioned, not all general practices choose to deliver it, the RNID found. Some ICBs also have restrictive criteria, such as only offering the service to people over 55 – which, according to the charity, goes against NICE guidelines.
The RNID pointed out that in the absence of an NHS earwax removal service, people suffering build-up have to pay for private removal – offered by some pharmacies – or attempt to manage their earwax themselves.
The NHS website advises people with earwax build-up to speak to a pharmacist for guidance and suggested treatments. The site also points out that not all GP practices remove earwax, and sufferers might have to pay for private treatment.
For many years, earwax removal was routinely offered by GP surgeries but increasingly and since 2019, this is no longer the case.
A 2022 report from the RNID found that two thirds (66%) of people with earwax build-up were told the service was no longer available on the NHS, with 26% saying they could not afford private treatment.
The charity is calling for urgent government intervention to ensure patients have access to earwax removal through NHS services, regardless of where they live, and to overturn the ‘postcode lottery’ of services.
In addition, the RNID has urged health commissioners to examine different ways of delivering the service through primary and community care, and ensure that general practices share ‘consistent, safe and evidence-based information’ with their patients.
Victoria Boelman, director of Insight and Policy at RNID, said: ‘There is no medical reason for the withdrawal of this vital service, which is essential for 2.3 million people in the UK.
‘We’re calling for the Department of Health and Social Care to commission an urgent review to ensure that everyone who needs earwax removal can access local NHS provision, whenever they need it.’
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘Audiology services that would carry out earwax removal are delivered by local integrated care boards, who ensure provision of services that meet the needs of patients in their area.
‘GPs can also refer patients where a build-up of earwax is linked with hearing loss.’