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The NHS is wasting millions each year on “unnecessary” operations to remove the tonsils from British children who are not sick enough to warrant surgery, a new study has found. Seven in every eight tonsillectomies performed in the study period failed to meet medical guidelines meaning children are “unlikely to benefit” from the surgery, the University of Birmingham researchers said.

This means that as many as 32,500 of the 37,000 childhood tonsillectomies each year are being conducted without good evidence, at a cost to the NHS £36.9m.

Meanwhile among children who do meet the guideline criteria and have seven or more severe sore throats within a year, only 14 per cent receive the surgery.

“Our research showed that most children who had their tonsils removed weren’t severely enough affected to justify treatment, while on the other hand, most children who were severely enough affected with frequent sore throats did not have their tonsils removed,” Professor Tom Marshall, a public health and primary care expert at the University of Birmingham, said.

He said this trend “changed little” in the 12-year period, from 2005 to 2016, that they looked at for the study published in the British Journal of General Practice.

UK guidelines suggest only offering the procedure where children have had seven or more severe sore throats in a year, or five or more in two consecutive years.

But after studying the medical records of 1.2 million children registered across 700 GP practices the researchers found 45 per cent of those who had tonsillectomies had only had between two to four sore throats that year.

In 10 per cent of cases children had just one sore throat before being referred for surgery.

Other “non evidence-based” reasons for youngsters undergoing tonsil removal included obstructive sleep apnoea and other sleep disordered breathing. Read more

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