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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 A Lock1,*,
  2. Janet Wilson2,
  3. Nick Steen1,
  4. Martin Eccles1,
  5. Katie Brittain1,
  6. Sean Carrie3,
  7. Ray Clarke4,
  8. Haytham Kubba5,
  9. Chris Raine6,
  10. Andrew Zarod7,
  11. John Bond1
  1. 1 Newcastle University, United Kingdom;
  2. 2 Newcastle University/Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, United Kingdom;
  3. 3 Freeman Hospital, Newcastle, United Kingdom;
  4. 4 Alder Hey Children's Hospital, Liverpool, United Kingdom;
  5. 5 Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow, United Kingdom;
  6. 6 Bradford Royal Infirmary, United Kingdom;
  7. 7 Booth Hall Children's Hospital, Manchester, United Kingdom
  1. Correspondence to: Catherine A Lock, Institute of Health and Society, Newcastle University, William Leech Building, The Medical School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4HH, United Kingdom; 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 to 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. Socioeconomic data showed no effect.

Conclusion: Preference for tonsillectomy reflects educational impact and recent experience, rather than age or socioeconomic status.

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