Regional specialist societies offer a valuable mechanism for the conduct of medical audit. The experience of the audit sub-committee of The Scottish Otolaryngological Society in conducting an audit on laryngeal cancer encouraged us to undertake a larger audit of tonsillectomy practice in Scotland. Although the number of tonsillectomies performed has declined over the last 10 years, they still account for about 20 per cent of all operations performed by otolaryngologists and as such are a major consumer of resources (Personal communication – Directorate of Information Services, Information and Statistics Division. NHS in Scotland, Management Executive, Edinburgh). The Scottish tonsillectomy audit was devised to define current practice, review indications for surgery and recommend such modifications in practice as may be necessary to optimise patient care and the use of resources. Funding was obtained from the Clinical Resource and Audit Group (CRAG) of the Scottish Home and Health Department.
Data on current practice was collected during the period February 1992 to January 1993. Proformas were completed by medical, administrative and secretarial staff in all participating hospitals, collected by an audit secretary and passed to the relevant data collection centre. Data was then entered into a specially designed database before being forwarded to the audit co-ordinator based in Dundee for collation. Six and 12 months following surgery, all inpatients were sent a questionnaire to obtain data on the efficacy of the operation.
Data were obtained from a total of 9 773 patients. Two thousand and seventy-nine of these were seen as both outpatients and inpatients, 4 309 were outpatients only and 3 385 were inpatients only. Four thousand, one hundred and one patients returned at least one follow-up questionnaire.
The topics audited included source and reason for referral, indications for surgery, grade of staff involved, type of surgery and length of stay in hospital. In agreement with previous studies (H.M.S.O., 1989), differences were found in the rates of tonsillectomy performed in different Health Boards. Although the highest referral and operation rates were found in the Highland region, referral and operation rates did not correlate in all other areas. Recurrent tonsillitis was the most frequent principal reason for the decision to operate although there were differences between Health Boards for other indications including obstructive symptoms. Most patients had symptoms for two to three years although some patients had been affected for 40 years prior to being listed for tonsillectomy. Some area ENT services were consultant-based while others involved more junior staff. The grade of staff involved did not appear to affect the decision made at the Outpatient Department (OPD) or the outcome of the operation.
Ninety-eight per cent of patients who returned the questionnaire were glad that the operation had been performed.
Recommendations regarding changes in tonsillectomy practice are given.