Introduction: Sore throats and tonsillitis represent a considerable health burden as well as a significant source of expenditure for the National Health Service (NHS). As part of the recent NHS savings drive, the introduction of 'procedures of low clinical effectiveness' (PoLCE) lists has reinforced a large reduction in the number of tonsillectomies performed. We carried out a cross-sectional study of trends in emergency sore throat admissions in the context of the number of tonsillectomies performed.
Methods: Hospital Episode Statistics (HES) data were extracted. Office for National Statistics data were also used.
Results: Between 1991 and 2011, the overall tonsillectomy rate fell by 44%. In the same time, the admission rate for tonsillitis rose by 310% (Pearson's r=-0.67, p=0.01). The peritonsillar abscess admission rate rose by 31% (r=-0.79, p<0.01). Between 1996 and 2011, the overall tonsillectomy rate fell by 41% and the retro and parapharyngeal abscess admission rate rose by 39% (r=-0.55, p=0.026). There was a 14% overall increase in tonsillectomy and sore throat associated bed days. This was despite the large fall in tonsillectomy numbers and the reduction in length of hospital stay.
Conclusions: Efforts to reduce the tonsillectomy rate are correlated with a significant rise in emergency admissions. The rise in the retro and parapharyngeal abscess rate is perhaps most alarming given the very high mortality of these conditions. Bed day data suggest that no net saving has been made despite the new measures.