NHS: Thousands of children have ‘needless’ appendix operations

Misdiagnosis of cases wastes up to £4.4 million of health service funding annually, according to a study. 

Surgery for appendicitis is the most common emergency operation in children. But the study found that the UK has the highest rate of “normal appendicectomy” where children undergo operations for suspected appendicitis but lab tests of the removed tissue find it to be normal.

Most children misdiagnosed with appendicitis improve without further treatment, but unnecessary surgery can be stressful for youngsters and their parents and can lead to complications. 

The findings, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, suggest improvements are needed for children with suspected appendicitis. 

Aneel Bhangu, of the University of Birmingham, said: “Our study found that overall the diagnosis is wrong for one in six children who undergo appendicectomy, and a normal appendix is removed.” 

Surgical experts at the university led the study on behalf of the West Midlands Research Collaborative.

The team recommended urgent action to improve the quality of ultrasound services to ensure patients receive the right diagnosis. 

Study lead author Dr Dmitri Nepogodiev said: “Ultrasound scans have the advantage that unlike CAT scans they do not expose children to radiation. 

“They have been found to be an effective diagnostic tool in other countries, but in the UK ultrasound is frequently inconclusive.” 

Researchers looked at children aged five to 15 with suspected appendicitis from across 139 hospitals in the UK and Ireland. 

Of the 28,700 UK children admitted to hospital with suspected appendicitis each year, almost 10,000 have their appendix removed and 1,600 have them wrongly removed. 

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