Health campaigners have called for ear wax removal services to be provided at GP practices after finding people were having to pay up to £80 to get their ears cleaned.

There have also been stories of people perforating their eardrums by using cotton buds or even hair grips in an attempt to clear wax.

West Cornwall Healthwatch and Hearing Loss Cornwall are just two of the organisations that have called on NHS Kernow to provide funding for ear wax removal.

Traditionally people had been able to get appointments at their local GP surgery to have a nurse carry out ear wax removal.

However in recent years many surgeries have stopped the service as it was not being paid for by the clinical commissioning group, while some have said they no longer have staff who can carry out the task.

But for some people getting their ears cleared of wax is a vital service as they can sometimes be left in pain or isolated because their hearing is affected.

The issue was highlighted at a meeting of Cornwall Council’s health and adults overview and scrutiny committee last year and NHS Kernow said that it would consider the service as part of a review of all services that it commissions.

This week NHS Kernow said that its review was expected to be completed by September.

However Hearing Loss Cornwall said that it was receiving an increasing number of distressing reports from people who have been unable to get ear wax removed and are unable to afford to pay for the service or get to the few locations where it is offered.

The charity is encouraging people who have been affected to get in touch and share their experiences and also to fill out an online survey set up by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID).

Ear (Image: free to use)

Ear (Image: free to use)

Clare Greenwood, executive officer for Hearing Loss Cornwall, said: “We have heard some distressing stories of this service not being an option through most GP clinics in Cornwall.

"People have complained that they are in pain, can’t have their ears checked without having the wax removed and many of the private providers have not been offering their services. They are also expensive and there are not many providers of this service in Cornwall.”

One of the key issues for people is that if they go for a routine hearing check they might not be able to have their appointment if it is found that they need to have wax removed from their ears.

This can not only lead to checks being delayed but could also mean a cost to the health service due to cancelled hearing tests.

Hearing Loss Cornwall also said that those experiencing hearing problems can also find themselves isolated and suffering from poor mental health due to their hearing.

A local deaf support worker who works with children was one of those who contacted Hearing Loss Cornwall with their concerns.

They said that they think that ear wax removal should be provided for free where there is a clinical need for it.

They added: “The impact on these people’s lives caused by the non-alleviation of symptoms or lack of access to sounds/spoken communication is huge, especially following from the isolation/delays in treatment in general caused by the pandemic.

“I believe that the CCG needs to understand the far-reaching implications of not providing this service which may not be fully understood by the decision makers in the process.”

Jane Ninnis worked in the audiology department at Royal Cornwall Hospital for more than 30 years before she retired three years ago.

She said that she had started to see problems before she retired with patients going for hearing tests with blocked ears.

“As a clinician it was getting more and more difficult and it has been getting worse since then. If a patient comes in for a hearing test and their ears are blocked with wax then their test results are not going to be accurate. Once the wax has been removed the test has to be repeated which is a waste for everybody.

“But now it is difficult to get wax removed, even three years ago people were saying that their GPs had stopped the service, but it is a lot worse now.

“Patients have to find another way of doing it and if they can’t get to a professional they will try it themselves. You can do that using over the counter drops but some will use things like cotton buds which can make it worse as it can push the wax deeper into the ear.

“I also know that people have tried things like hair grips and all sorts and they have been known to perforate their eardrums trying to get wax out."

She said that as the commissioning group is paying for hearing tests to be provided it should also provide the ear wax removal service to prevent tests having to be cancelled or being inaccurate.

An NHS Kernow spokesperson said: “Many GP practices across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly have provided an ear wax removal service. This service however has never been commissioned by NHS Kernow as part of the contract to provide GP services, nor is it specified in the national GP contract.

“We are aware some GP practices are taking the decision to stop offering this service as the removal of ear wax using micro suction is classed as an aerosol-inducing procedure and has associated risks of Covid-19.

“NHS Kernow’s primary care team, which includes GPs, is reviewing all the services it plans and pays for to ensure they provide the best clinical treatment to meet people’s needs, they provide value for money, and to understand the demand for the services commissioned. This review includes reviewing areas of potentially unmet need, included for example, ear syringing services, and the quality and financial impact.  We aim to complete the review by September 2021.”

To complete the RNID survey on ear wax removal go to