NHS 'must do more tonsil removal operations'

Image caption Tonsillectomy may be required for recurrent tonsillitis

Experts warn that cutting back on tonsil operations, in a bid to save NHS money, is putting patients' lives at risk.

According to ENT UK, hospitals are seeing a worrying rise in complications as serious as tonsil cancer as fewer operations are performed.

Writing in the BBC News Scrubbing Up column, a spokesman said the situation has gone "too far".

The government said there was no excuse for cutting services patients need.

In the mid-90s, over 77,000 tonsillectomies - where the tonsils are removed - were performed every year. By 2008 this had gone down to fewer than 50,000 - a 37% reduction.

Tonsillectomy rates are now lower in the UK than in any other country in Europe.


Although ENT UK agrees that in past decades the procedure had been over-used by doctors, it says the backlash against such operations has overshot.

And there is now the risk that too few tonsillectomies are being carried out, with dire consequences for patients.

Conditions that could be treated or prevented by removing the tonsils are now becoming more common.

For example, the incidence rate of cancer of the tonsil has been steadily rising in the UK, nearly doubling in the past decade - up from 0.8 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.4 per 100,000 in 2008.

In 2008, around 900 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer of the tonsil, up from around 500 in 1999.

And tonsil-related admissions for emergency medical treatment have also gone up - by over 40% from just over 30,000 cases in 2000 to nearly 44,000 in 2008.

So too have admissions for quinsy, an extremely painful collection of pus following tonsillitis. At the beginning of the millennium there were 6,352 UK hospital admissions a year for this condition. This increased to 7,683 in 2008-09.

At the same time, the number of tonsillectomies performed has been going down.

Dr Andrew McCombe, consultant surgeon and spokesman for ENT UK said: "There is no data to suggest that the procedure is overused or abused in the UK.

"In fact the data trends of increasing hospital activity for tonsillar problems seem to suggest that rather than performing too many tonsillectomies in the UK, we are now performing too few."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "There is no excuse to cut back on services ‎that patients need."

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