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Millions lose access to free wax removal as NHS withdraws service in parts of the UK

Since 2019, NHS has withdrawn free wax removal services across the country, affecting almost 10 million people

A report by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID), a national hearing loss charity, has found a sharp decline in the number of free wax removal services across the country.

Only 18 (43%) of the NHS’s 42 integrated care boards (ICBs) are offering the full wax removal service to all adults in their area which the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends. Fifteen other ICBs provide more limited access, sometimes only to over-55s, but seven offer no care at all.

‘There is no medical reason for the withdrawal of this vital service. It’s absolutely wrong that people in England who need ear wax removal to be able to hear and take part in everyday life are being left to face painful and debilitating symptoms, forced to fork out for private treatment, or risk dangerous self-removal methods,’ said Victoria Boelman, RNID’s director of insight and policy.

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Wax build-up in the ear canal can cause painful symptoms including tinnitus, earache, and hearing loss. It often requires removal before a hearing test and can interfere with certain hearing aids, causing a distracting whistling sound.

Until 2019 almost anyone in England with a buildup of wax in their ear was able to have it removed by visiting their GP surgery, usually by a practice nurse. But now, with little to no service, ‘the 10 million people who live in areas where there is no provision, have no option but to pay for it, costing up to £100 for just one procedure,’ said Crystal Rolfe, RNID’s director of health.

The charity’s strong advice is ‘never put anything in your ear smaller than your elbow,’ but faced with financial constraints and painful symptoms, ‘people try to remove wax themselves using hair clips, paperclips, toothpicks, cotton buds or ear candle,’ said Ms Rolfe.

With 2.3 million people across the UK needing ear wax removal each year, the charity has called for ‘integrated care board (ICB) commissioning teams to ensure that information about ear wax removal services is made available locally so that patients can be signposted or referred to the most appropriate NHS services where symptoms persist following self-care methods.’