Hinal Patel, superintendent pharmacist, IP and owner of Sevenoaks Pharmacy in Kent, talks to Saša Janković about the increasing demand for her ear irrigation service.

Service type: Ear irrigation service.

Name and location of pharmacy: Sevenoaks Pharmacy, Sevenoaks, Kent.

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Hinal Patel.

Why did you start offering this service?

I started offering this service in October 2020. I love pharmacy, I’ve been doing it all my life – first as a dispenser, and then as a pharmacist once I completed my degree. But as much as I love the work, expecting to be able to run a business just on prescriptions alone is not financially viable. I knew I needed to do more in order to still be here to dispense prescriptions, especially with the rise of online pharmacies which enable my customers to get their medicines from anywhere.

I began getting a lot of queries from my customers about ear irrigating because GPs had stopped offering it, and there was only one other place in the town where people could get it done but that had a long wait time. I saw a gap and decided to fill it.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

The training I did was about £200, plus I have to buy the irrigation equipment, and add the service on to my public liability insurance.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

I did my training with Caring for Care, which was a day course where they take you through the theory and practical side of ear irrigation. I had also just completed my prescribing theory for ENT, so this was great as it reinforced my learning from that.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

When I set up the ear serviceI contacted all the GPs in the area and told them I offer it. Their receptionists refer patients to me, which is really good, and I have patient base of my own. We have promotional material in the shop, plus a little bit on our Facebook and Instagram pages too. Even with this very minimal advertising I get lots of enquiries.

When someone asks for the service the first thing I do is book them in for a preliminary consultation, as its surprising how many people think they have blocked ears and then turn out to have no wax, or have an infection, or actually no problems at all.

As an IP I can offer them a very rounded service, so I’ll check their ears to see if they do indeed have a build-up of wax or not. If the problem is down to an infection I can prescribe for that, if its wax related I book them in for a second appointment at least a week later (after they’ve done the olive oil drops in the ear) to come back for irrigation. Even when they come back for the second time, I’ll check their ears again to make sure it’s safe to do the irrigation. I won’t do it if there are any signs of infection, problems with a perforated ear drum, or of course if the olive oil has cleared up the wax problem already.

Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it?

Not really, but I do tell people that if they have recurring problems with ear wax they can come back every six months or so to keep on top of it.

How have patients responded to the service?

It is proving very popular, as ear pain is the kind of problem you don’t want to wait to get fixed. Plus, if you provide a good service in your pharmacy then people come back for other things. I had a patient who came in for ear irrigation, but I ended up helping them with some other problems I discovered they were having with their prescriptions.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

I work in this pharmacy (I have two others) at least three days a week, and I do about three or four ear consultations a day. I set aside half an hour for the consultation and the same for the follow-up irrigation just in case we need it, although it doesn’t usually take as long as that.

How much do you charge for the service?

I charge £10 for the initial consultation, and if they need ear drops those are included in that price. Subsequent irrigation is £50 for one ear or £75 for two, but I take off the original £10.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Definitely! This is a really straightforward service to set up and a great way to bring in new customers, as well as getting to know the ones you already have and talk to them about problems they are having. During the pandemic, we haven’t had the chance to interact with patients as much as we used to – especially the most vulnerable as they are too worried to come out. But as ear problems tend to affect older people more, particularly hearing aid users, it has helped us keep an eye on some of our elderly customers at this time. I would also say that if you’re not an IP then you should be an IP, because it’s a great way for pharmacists to do more. Now, more than ever, it’s the level of service you provide that