Thousands of children are having their tonsils removed ‘unnecessarily’

Henrietta Strickland
November 8, 2018

Most childhood tonsillectomies carried out in Britain are unnecessary, a study has concluded.

Seven out of eight children who have the procedure are unlikely to benefit, with the needless operations costing the NHS nearly £40 million a year.

They also found that many children who might benefit from having their tonsils removed are not having the surgical procedure.

"It's hugely important to regularly review the benefits of all treatments and procedures in medicine based on new emerging research and evidence", she said.

Earlier this year the NHS announced that the removal of tonsils was among a list of procedures that would be reduced in a bid to save money.

"The other thing to say is a great majority of children who are severely affected still do not have their tonsils out".

United Kingdom guidelines suggest offering a tonsillectomy for children with seven or more documented sore throats over the course of a year.

But only a small number of those who received the procedure had this many sore throats, according to the study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

Researchers analysed the electronic medical records of over 1.6 million children from more than 700 United Kingdom general practices dating between 2005 and 2016.

Nearly one in 10 had suffered just one sore throat before being offered the surgery, they report in The British Journal of General Practice.

Professor Marshall, of Public Health and Primary Care at the University of Birmingham and author of the report, told talkRADIO's Julia Hartley-Brewer: "We found that only one in eight children we looked at had had enough saw throats to justify surgery".

Nearly one in 10 (9.9%) suffered just one sore throat before being offered the procedure.

They said unnecessary tonsillectomies were costing the NHS across the United Kingdom £36.9 million each year.

They say there is good evidence that the operation can help sleep apnoea and sleep-breathing problems, while a drop in tonsillectomies since 2011, after a change to guidelines, has been followed by an increase in the rate of admissions of patients with various complications of acute tonsillitis. In those children with enough documented sore throats, the improvement is slightly quicker after tonsillectomy, which means surgery is justified.

They found that out of more than 18,000 children who had had their tonsils removed during this time, only 2,144 (about 12%) had had enough sore throats to justify surgery. "But research suggests children with fewer sore throats don't benefit enough to justify surgery, because the sore throats tend to go away anyway". "It makes you wonder if tonsillectomy is ever really essential in any child".

According to researchers, about 37,000 tonsillectomies were performed on children in England by the NHS between April 2016 and March 2017, carrying a bill of £42m.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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