Surgeons’ fears as cancer figures rise

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WIGANERS could have their health put at risk due to a fall in tonsil surgery according to experts.

Senior surgeons at the British Association of Otorhinolaryngologists (ENT UK) claim that hospitals are seeing a worrying rise in complications as serious as tonsil cancer as fewer operations are performed.

In the mid-90s, more than 77,000 tonsillectomies - where the tonsils are removed - were performed every year. By 2008 this had gone down to fewer than 50,000 - a 37 per cent reduction.

Tonsillectomy rates are now lower in the UK than in any other country in Europe.

In Wigan a freedom of information request revealed that in the past two years, some 100 fewer tonsillectomies were carried out by Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust (WWL) than in the three previous years (249 in 2010/11 down from 356 in 2008/09).

The figures also revealed that there was a 133 per cent increase in those diagnosed with cancer of the tonsil (from six to 14) in the past two years in Wigan.

Although ENT UK agrees that in past decades the procedure had been over-used by doctors, it says the backlash against such operations has overshot.

And there is now the risk that too few tonsillectomies are being carried out, with dire consequences for patients. Conditions that could be treated or prevented by removing the tonsils are now becoming more common.

Dr Andrew McCombe, consultant surgeon and spokesman for ENT UK, said: “There is no data to suggest that the procedure is overused or abused in the UK. In fact the data trends of increasing hospital activity for tonsillar problems suggest rather than performing too many tonsillectomies in the UK, we are now performing too few.”

A spokesperson for WWL said: “Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust always believes in providing the best and safest care to all our patients. We implemented the Ashton, Leigh and Wigan Primary Care Trust guidance in 2008.

“The guidance on Effective Use of Resources was based on the latest NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) guidance, and requires WWL to seek prior approval from ALWPCT before any procedure is carried out.

“Therefore, WWL has seen a reduction in the number of tonsillectomies carried out over the last five years.”