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Childhood tonsillectomy: who is referred and what treatment choices are made? Baseline findings from the North of England and Scotland Study of Tonsillectomy and Adenotonsillectomy in Children (NESSTAC)
  1. Catherine Lock1,
  2. Janet Wilson1,2,
  3. Nick Steen1,
  4. Martin Eccles1,
  5. Katie Brittain1,
  6. Sean Carrie2,
  7. Ray Clarke3,
  8. Haytham Kubba4,
  9. Chris Raine5,
  10. Andrew Zarod6,
  11. John Bond1
  1. 1Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  2. 2ENT, Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  3. 3ENT, Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool, UK
  4. 4ENT, Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, UK
  5. 5ENT, Bradford Royal Infirmary, Bradford, UK
  6. 6ENT, Booth Hall Children's Hospital, Manchester, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Catherine A Lock, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH, UK; c.a.lock{at}


Background Tonsillectomies are frequently performed, yet variations exist in tonsillectomy rates. Clinicians use guidelines, but complex psychosocial influences on childhood tonsillectomy include anecdotal evidence of parental enthusiasm. Studies indicate that undergoing preferred treatment improves outcome. Despite the enthusiasm with which tonsillectomy is offered and sought, there is little evidence of efficacy. This resulted in a randomised controlled trial to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of (adeno)tonsillectomy in children with recurrent sore throats.

Objective To compare characteristics of children entering the randomised trial with those recruited to a parallel, non-randomised study, to establish trends in referral and patient preferences for treatment.

Design Baseline data from a randomised controlled trial with parallel non-randomised preference study, comparing surgical intervention with medical treatment in children aged 4–15 years with recurrent sore throat referred to five secondary care otolaryngology departments located in the north of England or west central Scotland.

Results Centres assessed 1546 children; 21% were not eligible for tonsillectomy. Among older children (8–15 years), girls were significantly more likely to be referred to secondary care. Of 1015 eligible children, 268 (28.2%) agreed to be randomised, while 461 (45.4%) agreed to the parallel, non-randomised preference study, with a strong preference for tonsillectomy. Participants reporting that progress at school had been impeded or with more experience of persistent sore throat were more likely to seek tonsillectomy. Referred boys were more likely than girls to opt for medical treatment. Socio-economic data showed no effect.

Conclusion Preference for tonsillectomy reflects educational impact and recent experience, rather than age or socio-economic status.

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  • Funding UK Department of Health through its Health Technology Assessment Programme (HTA Project 99/20/03).

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the N&Y MREC.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Patient consent Obtained from the parents.