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At the heart of general practice since 1960

The great ear syringe shortage of 2016

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By now, we’re pretty much immune to ‘supply/manufacturing’ problems. After all, we’ve had issues with shortages of common drugs, and creams, and even needles. We thought we’d seen it all. But we haven’t. Because I can now reveal that there is currently a supply problem with… ear syringes.

Because GPs do an infinite number of things, there is an infinite number of ways be can be driven mad

I am not making this up. I have it on extremely good authority – my practice nurses – that there is some kind of ‘national issue’ affecting ear syringe manufacture, in that the machines are all under-powered, and therefore useless at their sole function, specifically, as you are probably aware, the flushing out of ear wax. Astonishingly, it may actually be the case that, by the time you read this, there are no functioning ear syringes in the country at all.

The patients are furious. We’d explain to them what’s happening, if only they could hear. The situation is so desperate that, apparently, one elderly lady in a neighbouring practice has quite literally taken things into her own hands by successfully using a turkey-baster to do some self-syringing. A turkey baster, in case you don’t know, is a kind of massive pipette. And its second most common use after basting turkeys is DIY artificial insemination. Thanks, Google.

Anyway, I’ve brought you this absolutely true story simply to illustrate that, even though you’re convinced that general practice couldn’t possibly get any more frustrating, irritating or surreal, you’re wrong. It can, and it just has. If the great ear syringing shortage hasn’t hit you yet, it will, and believe me, you’ll hear all about it, wax permitting.

Quite where absurdist episodes like this leave us, I’m not sure – presumably with the sad realisation that, because GPs do an infinite number of things, there is an infinite number of ways be can be driven mad. Tell you what, though – I’m going to think twice about accepting any Christmas dinner invites from young, childless couples.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield

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Readers' comments (24)

  • Never worked out why wax in ears is an illness. Its like making hair growth an illness, perhaps practice nurses could do hair cuts.

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  • You wont be able to find ear syringes per se as using syringes to irrigate ears ceased many years ago (too damaging to ears) but ear irrigation machines (propulse)are available to order through NHS supplies. I have ordered these many times with no supply issues.

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  • "Because GPs do an infinite number of things, there is an infinite number of ways we can be driven mad"

    I love that quote!

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  • We have had about a dozen Propulse ear irrigators in the last year and they have all gone faulty within days. We have given up.

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  • Or you could tell patients to buy a bulb syringe for about a fiver from chemist/Amazon and do it themselves.

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  • Ps. whisper it quietly, but its outside core contract anyway!

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  • David Copperfield dear kind Sir there are 10000 perforated ear drums a year in the UK from ear syringing. I know you have not had one, but please stop.

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  • I can say as a Practice Nurse there is an issue with supply. Some companies won't sell them because they have too many problems with them. The one company we did manage to get them from, we repeatly had to send them back due to loss of power.
    Look after your old propulse because the new ones are terrible.

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  • Sounds like I need to quit GP and set up an ear syringing machine manufacturing company

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  • Easy - not core refer ENT

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From: Copperfield

Dr Tony Copperfield is a jobbing GP in Essex with more than a few chips on his shoulder