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Tonsillitis is on the up

View profile for Judith Thomas-Whittingham
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The Telegraph has reported in the last few weeks that the myth that removing the tonsils does not work has led to a 40 per cent rise in the number of children admitted to A & E in the last decade suffering from painful tonsillitis.

Tonsillitis is described as the inflammation of the tonsils, which are two small glands at the back of the throat behind the tongue. In children whose immune systems are still developing, it is thought that they act as barrier to prevent infection spreading further.

Thousands of children are missing days at school due to tonsillitis yet they are refused surgery to remove their tonsils.

Andrew McCombe, an Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon at Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey and spokesman for the Royal College of Surgeons, said removing the tonsils is an effective operation for those children suffering repeated attacks of tonsillitis, yet it is being rationed.

"Saying the operation doesn't work has become received wisdom and I do not know where that has come from," said Mr McCombe.

The increase of children rushed into A & E who require emergency attention as a result of the inflamed tonsils has increased by more than 6,000 cases from 2006/7 to 2010/11. Mr McCombe believes that this is because of the reluctance to remove tonsils and difficulty for a child to have their tonsils removed.
He states that it has to now be documented on numerous occasions in their GP notes, that a child is suffering from tonsillitis before the GP can even refer them to a specialist. This means that the cases where it would be preferable to remove the tonsils are not being consulted by a specialist and as a consequence suffering potentially unnecessary pain.

One reason as to why Tonsillectomies may have been dropped or not recommended can be seen by the ‘list of relatively ineffective interventions’ which was drawn up by Croydon Primary Care Trust in 2005/06.  This estimated that 90 per cent of the Tonsillectomies could be stopped saving millions of pounds for the Trust. This approach has subsequently been adopted by other Trusts.  It therefore highlights that the major cause behind the drop in this kind of operation is due to saving money, but this does not provide comfort for the thousands of children who needlessly suffer from the infection.

The topic remains in current debate and research.

By clinical negligence specialist, Anne Marie Cassidy