‘Trailblazing’ community pharmacy hearing health service to be discontinued

NHS South West London Integrated Care Board says it is unable to find the required funding to continue the ‘Hearing health pathway pilot’, despite treating more than 5,000 patients during the first year.
Close-up of examining ear with an otoscope

A community pharmacy pilot that treated more than 5,000 patients in south west London for hearing problems in a 12-month period is being scrapped owing to a lack of funding.

A total of 20 community pharmacies in Merton, Wandsworth and Richmond offered assessments, hearing screenings and earwax removal using the TympaHealth digital platform device.

In an evaluation of the ‘Hearing health pathway pilot’, published in January 2024, Anne Joshua, head of pharmacy integration at NHS England, hailed the service as a “trailblazing initiative”.

However, NHS South West London Integrated Care Board (ICB), which ran the pilot, has told The Pharmaceutical Journal the service will be discontinued after the pilot finishes at the end of April 2024.

A spokesperson for NHS South West London ICB said: “We have worked hard to find a new funding source for this pilot, but have been unable to match the [£1m] cost.”

They added that the ICB would be “reviewing current GP practice provision” to make sure patients in Merton, Wandsworth and Richmond could still receive ear health treatment in the community.

The pilot was funded by NHS England’s Elective Recovery Fund and intended to run for 12 months from September 2022, but it was later extended until the end of April 2024.

In the pilot’s first 12 months, 7,648 patients were referred to community pharmacies by 72 GP practices. Of these, 5,353 patients — equating to 70% of the referrals — completed their treatment in the pharmacy, of whom 4,531 (85%) received digital otoscopy in community pharmacies.

A report ‘Blocked ears, blocked access: The crisis of ear wax removal in England’, published by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People (RNID) in January 2024, revealed that millions of people in England are unable to access ear wax removal services on the NHS.

Commenting on the discontinuation of the hearing health pilot, Franki Oliver, audiology manager at the RNID, told The Pharmaceutical Journal that ear wax build-up can cause “painful and distressing symptoms such as hearing loss, tinnitus and earache, as well as delaying and preventing essential hearing care”.

“South West London ICB must make sure there is no gap in provision once this pilot comes to an end, and explore different ways of delivering the service, so that everyone who relies on professional ear wax removal can access it on the NHS,” Oliver added.

NHS England had not responded to The Pharmaceutical Journal’s request for a comment at the time of publication.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, April 2024, Vol 312, No 7984;312(7984)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2024.1.308286

    Please leave a comment 

    You may also be interested in