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Falling on deaf ears



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OK, yes, I realise I write about ear wax with a regularity that borders on the fetishistic. And true, I do intend to collect all cerumen-based columns and blogs in book form one day (‘Copperfield: The Wax Works’).

But really. I mean, REALLY. Word on the GP street is that ear syringing should be defined as non-core and therefore provided only as an enhanced service, or directed to the ENT department.

I do want to steer clear of any laboured jokes here, but I have to say that I really don’t hear what the problem is. Ear syringing was literally the first thing I learned to do as a GP trainee. And because that was in the Mesozoic era, it has to be about as core as the solid ball of alloy at the Earth’s centre.

Besides – and I know I’ve said this before, but it’s fallen on deaf ears – in our gloomy primary care world of viruses, soft psychiatry, chronic disease drudgery and dull-as-dishwater primary prevention, ear syringing is a rare shard of glorious therapeutic sunlight. Armed with nothing more than water, a syringe and a pinny, you restore the gift of hearing. It’s a sodding miracle.

Ear syringing has to be about as core as the solid ball of alloy at the Earth’s centre

This came to me, today, as I was about to perform a rectal examination, the common thread being, presumably, the colour brown. I was standing there, with digit poised in the traditional manner when, to ease the tension, I rather randomly asked my middle aged, prostatically anxious patient what he did for a living.

At that moment, it occurred to me that, if we’re going to deconstruct general practice ad absurdum into its constituent parts, where will it all end? Could, for example, the time-honoured rectal examination be next as we down gloves and work-to-rule? And if we continue on this process of screaming and shouting that various GP tasks are not actually our job, then won’t we a) Appear ridiculous b) Justifiably be viewed as money-grubbing, workshy or both? c) Lose moments like this?

Moments like this, in this case, being the reply from the other end of the couch, which was, ‘I regret to say, at this precise moment, that I am an estate agent’. A sentence I heard perfectly, on account of wax-free ears, and which prompted me to pull that glove up to my elbow.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex