We explored the trends over time and the geographical variation in the use of subacromial decompression and rotator cuff repair in 152 local health areas (Primary Care Trusts) across England. The diagnostic and procedure codes of patients undergoing certain elective shoulder operations between 2000/2001 and 2009/2010 were extracted from the Hospital Episode Statistics database. They were grouped as 1) subacromial decompression only, 2) subacromial decompression with rotator cuff repair, and 3) rotator cuff repair only.
The number of patients undergoing subacromial decompression alone rose by 746.4% from 2523 in 2000/2001 (5.2/100 000 (95% confidence interval (CI) 5.0 to 5.4) to 21 355 in 2009/2010 (40.2/100 000 (95% CI 39.7 to 40.8)). Operations for rotator cuff repair alone peaked in 2008/2009 (4.7/100 000 (95% CI 4.5 to 4.8)) and declined considerably in 2009/2010 (2.6/100 000 (95% CI 2.5 to 2.7)).
Given the lack of evidence for the effectiveness of these operations and the significant increase in the number of procedures being performed in England and elsewhere, there is an urgent need for well-designed clinical trials to determine evidence of clinical effectiveness.