Seven in ten children who have tonsils removed 'unlikely to benefit'

Desiree Burns
November 8, 2018

According to the report more than one in 10 children who had the procedure attended casualty departments often with post-surgery bleeding.

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.

A new United Kingdom study has found that only one in every eight children who have tonsillectomies benefit from the operation...

The study added that current British health policy, based on the best scientific evidence, is that to meet the criteria to benefit from a tonsillectomy, children must suffer from either more than seven documented sore throats in a year; more than five sore throats per year for two successive years; or three sore throats per year for three successive years.

"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.

Evidence suggests that the procedure results in modest, short-term reductions in recurrent sore throats in severely affected children, the researchers said.

However, 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.

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It also found that 44.6% of those who had the procedure had between two and four sore throat episodes and 12.4% who had the operation had five or six instances of sore throat.

Writing in the British Journal of General Practice, Marshall and colleagues describe how they scoured a research database that contains anonymous electronic medical records from 739 general practices around the United Kingdom, looking at records between 2005 and 2016 for children up to 15 years old.

"In the United Kingdom, few children with evidence-based indications undergo tonsillectomy and seven in eight of those who do (32,500 of 37,000 annually) are unlikely to benefit", the authors wrote.

Researchers said decisions to operate on children were "ethically dubious" and wasting the NHS £40m a year. In those children with enough documented sore throats, the improvement is slightly quicker after tonsillectomy, which means surgery is justified.

"If children have had a lot of sore throats and they are fairly severe then that is a reason for removing tonsils". "But research suggests children with fewer sore throats don't benefit enough to justify surgery, because the sore throats tend to go away anyway".

While the Mayo Clinic reports that tonsillectomies were once common but now are generally only performed when bacterial tonsillitis occurs frequently, doesn't respond to treatment or causes other complications, researchers in the new study say the pattern they observed changed little over the 12-year period.

He added: "Children may be more harmed than helped by a tonsillectomy. It makes you wonder if tonsillectomy ever really essential in any child".

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