Tonsillitis, tonsillectomy, and deep neck space infections in England: the case for a new guideline for surgical and non-surgical management.

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Tonsillectomy is a common surgical procedure performed chiefly for recurrent tonsillitis. The Scottish Intercollegiate Guidance Network (SIGN) introduced guidelines in 1998 to improve patient selection for tonsillectomy and reduce the potential harm to patients from surgical complications such as haemorrhage. Since the introduction of the guidance, the number of admissions for tonsillitis and its complications has increased. National Hospital Episode Statistics over a 20-year period were analysed to assess the trends in tonsillectomy, post-tonsillectomy haemorrhage, tonsillitis and its complications with reference to the guidance, procedures of limited clinical value and the associated costs and benefits.A literature search was conducted via PubMed and the Cochrane Library to identify relevant research. Hospital Episode Statistics data were interrogated and relevant data compared over time to assess trends related to the implementation of national guidance.Over the period analysed, the incidence of deep neck space infections has increased almost five-fold, mediastinitis ten-fold and peritonsillar abscess by 1.7-fold compared with prior to SIGN guidance. Following procedures of limited clinical value implementation, the incidence of deep neck space infections has increased 2.4-fold, mediastinitis 4.1-fold and peritonsillar abscess 1.4-fold compared with immediately prior to clinical commissioning group rationing. The rate of tonsillectomy and associated haemorrhage (1-2%) has remained relatively constant at 46,299 (1999) compared with 49,447 (2009) and 49,141 (2016), despite an increase in the population of England by seven million over the 20-year period.The rise in admissions for tonsillitis and its complications appears to correspond closely to the date of SIGN guidance and clinical commissioning group rationing of tonsillectomy and is on the background of a rise in the population of the UK. The move towards daycase tonsillectomy has reduced bed occupancy after surgery but this has been counteracted by an increase in admissions for tonsillitis and deep neck space infections, sometimes requiring lengthy intensive care stays and a protracted course of rehabilitation. The total cost of treating the complications of tonsillitis in England in 2017 is estimated to be around £73 million. The cost of tonsillectomy and treating post-tonsillectomy haemorrhage is £56 million by comparison. The total cost per annum for tonsillectomy prior to the introduction of SIGN guidance was estimated at £71 million with tonsillitis and its complications accounting for a further £8 million.

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Authors: M Pankhania, J Rees, A Thompson, S Richards