Is Your Operation Really Necessary?

Dr Vernon Coleman

It is generally accepted that at least a quarter of all surgical operations performed are unnecessary. The real figure is much higher – probably half.

For some types of surgery for example: heart surgery, tonsillectomies, circumcisions, Caesarian sections for pregnant women and hysterectomies, the percentage of unnecessary operations is almost certainly much, much higher than that.

At least 90% of all heart surgery is unnecessary.

With many operations (such as hernia repair) the downside is often considerably greater than the upside.

Operations are done unnecessarily for a huge variety of reasons.

Some – particularly those performed on private patients – may be done because the surgeon needs the cash because his boat needs repainting.

And some unnecessary operations are done because it’s easier to cut open a patient than it is to think about alternatives. If you go to a Ford garage, the salesman will recommend a Ford motor car. If you visit a surgeon he will recommend surgery.

As the years go by, so the number of unnecessary operations continues to increase.

And it isn’t just a problem because of the unnecessary pain and discomfort that patients have to put up with.

At least 1% of the patients who undergo surgery will die on the operating table or in the ward afterwards. One in every 100 patients who goes into hospital for an operation does not walk out again afterwards.

Of course, some patients are very ill when they are wheeled into the operating theatre.

And some patients would have died without surgery.

But many of those patients who died were perfectly healthy when they are taken into the operating theatre. They were having surgery because they had been persuaded by doctors that it was necessary, or that it would in some way improve the quality of their lives.

Back in 1988 (in a book called `The Health Scandal’ – which is now available again via the bookshop on I reported that coronary artery bypass surgery (the commonest procedure performed in cardiac surgery) had been in use for nearly 30 years without anyone trying to find out how patients’ everyday lives were affected by the operation.

When a survey was eventually done, it was found that whereas nearly half of the patients who had the operation had been working right up to the time of surgery, three months after the operation, only just over a third of the men were working. And a year after the operation, nearly half of the patients were still not working. In other words, the operation had little positive effect on patients’ lives but did put a good many out of action for some time. And there were, of course, a number of patients who died as a result of surgical complications.

A bypass operation takes several hours to perform, consumes a good deal of hospital time and professional skill and can be a physically and mentally exhausting experience for a patient and his family. There is a one in 30 risk that a patient undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery will be dead within 30 days of the operation. The mortality rate varies from surgeon to surgeon but it can be as high as 20% and anything up to a quarter of patients having the operation have heart attacks either while on the operating table or shortly afterwards.

And what makes the medical profession’s enthusiasm for coronary artery surgery even more bizarre is the fact that many patients who have symptoms of heart disease don’t need surgery at all, but stand a better chance of recovering if they are put on a regime which includes a vegan diet, gentle exercise and relaxation. (I described the utterly convincing evidence for this in my book How To Stop Your Doctor Killing You, which was first published in 1996. The chapter is entitled Conquer Heart Disease Without Pills Or Surgery.)

I can understand cardiac surgeons promoting heart surgery – it is for them a major source of income – but what the hell are GPs doing still automatically referring so many patients for heart surgery?

Any GP who does so should be struck off the medical register and have his stethoscope stuffed up a suitably ill-designed orifice.

Taken from `The Kick Ass A to Z for Over 60s’ by Vernon Coleman which is available via the bookshop on

Copyright Vernon Coleman November 2023