How much does a private tonsillectomy cost?

Tonsillitis is a relatively common childhood disease but can be debilitating, particularly when it recurs repeatedly. In recent years there's been a reduction in the number of tonsillectomy procedures carried out by the NHS. Therefore, you may be considering private treatment. Here's our guide to private tonsillectomies.

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What is Tonsillitis?

Tonsillitis is an illness that affects your tonsils, two small glands that sit at the back of your throat. It can be either a viral or bacterial infection and causes swollen tonsils and symptoms including a sore throat and high temperature. Your tonsils form part of your immune system along with your adenoids.

Some children experience persistent tonsillitis and ear, nose and throat problems but can find that it resolves as they get older and their tonsils and adenoids shrink. Tonsillitis can also affect teenagers and adults.

Diagram showing how a throat with tonsillitis looks, both bacterial and viral

Can you still have a tonsillectomy on the NHS?

If you're a parent whose child is experiencing recurrent tonsillitis with painful and inflamed tonsils, you may have expected your GP to recommend tonsil removal, only to be disappointed. Sometimes, you can have your tonsils removed via the NHS, but you must meet specific criteria.

Have tonsillectomy rates dropped?

Tonsillitis can cause a sore throat, breathing problems and difficulty swallowing, but it typically resolves within a few days, which is why the NHS are generally reluctant to operate.

The number of tonsil removal procedures reduced by 37% between the mid-90s and 2008, owing to concerns that NHS funds were being wasted on unnecessary surgery. There is an ongoing debate amongst ENT surgeons about the need for tonsillectomy. However, some surgeons are concerned that patient safety is being compromised and that ear, nose and throat departments are seeing more emergency admissions and higher rates of cancer affecting the tonsils as a result.

What other treatment will the NHS offer?

NHS guidance on tonsillitis suggests that if you or your child has tonsillitis, you should treat it at home or see a pharmacist for lozenges, throat sprays or antiseptic treatments.

If you haven't recovered within four days, have difficulty swallowing that's preventing you from eating or drinking, or if you can see white spots on your tonsils, go and see your GP. If there are signs of a bacterial infection, they may prescribe antibiotics.

How to treat tonsillitis yourself

You can treat your tonsillitis at home by drinking plenty of fluids to soothe your throat and taking painkillers. Adults can also gargle with warm salty water, however, this treatment shouldn't be used for children.

Tonsillitis can cause tiredness, so getting plenty of rest is essential.

What are the criteria for an NHS tonsillectomy?

Each NHS region has its own funding criteria and guidance for GPs considering whether to refer their patients to a throat specialist.

A tonsillectomy will always be recommended for suspected cancer, recurrent abscesses or a severe immune deficiency. The operation won't usually be carried out if bacteria around your tonsils and at the back of your throat are causing bad breath. A sleep study may be recommended if your child has breathing problems during sleep.

Generally speaking, surgery will be recommended if it's having a severe impact on your quality of life. Doctors will look for documented evidence of this, for example, frequent absences from school. There will also need to be evidence of regular treatment for sore throats in the years before surgery.

Patient being examined for suspected tonsillitis

Do you need to have your tonsils removed privately?

Opting for private healthcare has several benefits, including allowing you to access treatment more quickly than via the NHS. If you've been referred to an ENT surgeon, current NHS waiting times may mean that you're facing a significant wait for your initial consultation and subsequent surgery if your consultant agrees you meet the criteria for NHS funding.

In comparison, you can be seen by a private ENT surgeon in a much shorter time frame and can usually book a private appointment directly.

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How much does private tonsil removal cost?

The cost of your private healthcare and your tonsillectomy depends on several factors. Location is important as it will influence your healthcare provider's costs, from rent and utility bills to wages.

A provider with a chain of private hospitals will have higher costs than one that shares facilities with other private healthcare companies and the NHS. A private hospital typically offers hotel-style facilities, restaurant-quality food and a range of services to improve your overall experience.

The average cost of tonsillectomy surgery in the UK is £3,084 (January 2023).

As we've already mentioned, the exact price will vary depending on your choice of private hospital and surgeon. Here's what you can expect to pay for a tonsillectomy, on average, in various cities throughout the UK:

  • London - £2,620
  • Cardiff - £3,084
  • Manchester - £3,300
  • Southampton - £2,937
  • Glasgow - £3,300
a graph showing the costs for tonsillectomy in the UK

When you contact your chosen hospital for a quote, it's essential to check what's included and that there aren't any hidden costs. You'll find that quotes vary from hospital to hospital; this will typically reflect the type of hospital you've chosen and the level of treatment included.

How to pay for private tonsil removal

A tonsillectomy is a relatively low-cost procedure in the grand scheme of things. However, it's still a significant sum of money, and you have a few different payment options:

Self-pay

If you have some savings for a rainy day, self-pay is well worth considering as it's so straightforward. You can opt to pay for an initial consultation if you haven't already had an appointment with an NHS specialist. Your provider will then give you a quote for the tonsillectomy, and you will pay the invoice to cover your treatment. Many private hospitals offer fixed fee quotes, so you know what to expect.

Medical loan

A medical loan lets you pay for the costs of your surgery in instalments. Most healthcare providers have agreements with loan companies that offer 0% finance for a few months to let you spread your payments without costing you more.

Private medical insurance

Private medical insurance could pay for your surgery if you have the right cover. If you have inpatient cover, this will pay for the procedure if it involves a hospital admission or overnight stay, but you'll need out-patient cover to fund your initial consultation or any diagnostic tests or blood tests. If your child needs a tonsillectomy, they'll need to be covered by the policy.

Your insurers will also check to see whether tonsillitis is excluded as a pre-existing condition, either because you've had it before or consulted your GP about throat problems in the past.

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What to expect during your tonsil removal

The hospital will contact you before you're admitted so you know what to expect before your tonsillectomy.

Preparing for your tonsillectomy

Before the operation, the hospital will ask you about your general health, any medications you take, and any allergies. They'll also explain what will happen during the procedure and ask you to sign a consent form.

If you become ill the week before you're due to be admitted, you must let your doctor know as you may need to delay until you've recovered.

The operation

In most cases, tonsillectomies are carried out under general anaesthetic, so you'll be asleep while your tonsils are removed. The operation to remove the tonsils usually takes about half an hour.

There are various methods to remove your swollen tonsils. Your surgeon might use traditional surgical instruments and either dissolvable stitches or heat to close the wound. Other methods use heat from an electric current or a microdebrider with a rotating tip to remove the tonsils.

After the procedure

Once your surgery is complete, you'll be taken to a recovery room to rest until the anaesthetic has worn off. You can usually go home on the same day unless there are specific complications that mean you need to stay overnight.

If you go home, the after-effects of the anaesthetic are likely to make you feel drowsy, so you shouldn't drive, operate machinery or drink alcohol for at least 24 hours. Ask a friend or family member to drive you home and stay with you overnight.

If you have dissolvable stitches, these will break down in the two weeks after the procedure.

Your recovery time

Most patients make a full recovery in a couple of weeks. Your surgeon can let you know what to expect. It's important to get plenty of rest, eat well and drink plenty of fluids to help you recover. Sticking to soft foods will help initially, as you'll probably have some pain in your throat, but you should start eating normally as soon as possible. You can also take pain relief but avoid aspirin, as this can cause issues with bleeding.

Some common side effects include feeling sick, having a blocked nose, sore throat, earache or a stiff neck. You may also find that your sense of taste changes, although this usually resolves within a few months. If you have any concerns, contact your surgeon for advice.

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What are the risks of having your tonsils removed?

A tonsillectomy is one of the most common throat operations, but it still risks complications. Every operation has a risk of infection, so you may be given antibiotics. There's also a risk of bleeding.

A tonsillectomy is usually performed under a general anaesthetic, so your doctor will monitor you to ensure you're recovering well.

We hope this guide has helped you learn about tonsil removal and the benefits of opting for private treatment.

Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.

Chris Steele
Founder and Editor

Chris is our resident private health insurance and healthcare expert and has over a decade's experience writing for and about private medical insurance and private treatment. He's a Cert CII qualified member of The Chartered Insurance Institute and his research and work are often cited in the press. Chris is also contributing writer to numerous other financial services publications.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I have a tonsillectomy at a private hospital?

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Yes, you can. You can choose to have private healthcare at a hospital or via private health insurance if you have it.

How much does a private tonsillectomy cost?

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The average cost of a tonsillectomy in the UK is £3,084.

Why might I need a tonsillectomy?

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You might need tonsil removal if you have recurrent bouts of an illness called tonsillitis that is affecting your quality of life. The procedure is also recommended if there are signs of cancer, your sleep is affected, or your immune system is deficient.

What happens during a tonsillectomy procedure?

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The procedure is usually performed under general anaesthetic. Your tonsils are removed using traditional surgical tools or heat. Afterwards, you'll be offered painkillers and advised on any potential side effects, including pain and bleeding. Recovery typically takes up to two weeks.