This site is intended for health professionals only

The great ear syringe shortage of 2016

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