More than 5,000 patients treated for ear problems under community pharmacy pilot

During a pilot, 20 community pharmacies in south west London offered hearing assessments, screenings and earwax removal.
person checking patient's ear with otoscope

Community pharmacies in south west London have treated 5,353 patients for hearing problems as part of a 12-month pilot scheme, an evaluation of the scheme has reported.

NHS South West London Integrated Care Board (SWL ICB) launched the ‘Hearing health pathway pilot’ in September 2022, with the aim of detecting hearing issues sooner and reducing waiting times for GP and hospital appointments.

An evaluation of the pilot, published in January 2024, said that NHS SWL ICB had identified “a lack of equitable and free NHS earwax removal and hearing health check services in the area”, with variable services available in general practice.  

“Patients may often be referred onto an ear, nose and throat (ENT) consultant or audiologist within secondary care and consequently face long waiting times or may be directed to seek private treatment elsewhere at their own cost or may choose to seek private treatment to avoid waiting,” the evaluation says.

Through the pilot, funded by the NHS elective recovery fund, 20 community pharmacies in Merton, Wandsworth and Richmond offered assessments, hearing screenings and earwax removal using the TympaHealth digital platform device.

During a 12-month period, 7,648 patients were referred to community pharmacies by 72 GP practices. Of these, 5,353 patients (70% of referrals) completed their treatment in the pharmacy.

The evaluation said that 4,531 patients (85%) treated received digital otoscopy, followed by earwax removal (through microsuction) and/or a hearing check.

It added that 193 recommendations were made for patients to be referred through their GPs to secondary care (3% of completed appointments).

The report conclusion said: “Overall, the pilot pathway has appeared to benefit the local health and care system; and is a service which can be rolled out sustainably moving forward.”

Amit Patel, chief executive of Community Pharmacy South West London, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that he was “immensely proud” of the “groundbreaking” pilot.

“The dedication of our pharmacies and healthcare professionals in delivering this service has been nothing short of remarkable,” Patel said.

He added that it would be “a profound loss for this pioneering program not to transition into a permanent offering”.

“Ensuring the sustainability of such vital services is crucial for continuing to meet our community’s healthcare needs effectively,” he said.

David Webb, chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said that the pilot “highlights the benefits of integrated clinical pathways”.

“This locally commissioned initiative focuses on collaborative efforts between GP practices and community pharmacies to enhance ear care, as well as developing the skills of the pharmacy team,” he added.

Anne Joshua, head of pharmacy integration at NHS England, said: “This trailblazing initiative has showcased the potential for innovative care pathways and emphasises the importance of collaboration between GP practices and community pharmacies.

“The pilot’s success in improving accessibility and efficiency of hearing health services is a testament to our commitment to patient-centred care”.

The initial pilot was for 12 months from September 2022, but it has been extended for 6 months and will now end on 31 March 2024.

NHS SWL ICB could not confirm whether the service would continue when the pilot ends.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, February 2024, Vol 312, No 7982;312(7982)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.232508

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