Referrals from primary care with foreskin symptoms: Room for improvement


      • Most boys referred from primary care with foreskin symptoms have a normal foreskin.
      • Improved knowledge of normal foreskin development could reduce referrals saving time and money.
      • One fifth of boys who are referred undergo surgery, both circumcision and foreskin sparing options.



      Referrals to secondary care for boys with foreskin symptoms require face-to-face review, resulting in time out of school / work and costs to the family. This study aimed to review outcomes of referrals to ascertain if there was scope to reduce referrals.


      New patients referred to a UK regional paediatric surgery clinic during 2019 were identified and screened retrospectively. Medical records for boys over one year of age referred due to foreskin symptoms were reviewed.


      Of 2598 referrals, 1939 (75%) were boys & 1094 were > 1 yr; 398 (21%) were referred with foreskin symptoms at median age 7.2 yrs (IQR 4–10). 307 (77%) were diagnosed with physiological phimosis, 67 (18%) with pathological phimosis, 9 (2%) with balanitis (the remainder had ‘smegma’ retention cysts, preputial adhesions, tight frenulum or anatomical abnormalities). 211 (53%) were discharged at the initial appointment, this was significantly more likely for younger boys, and those with physiological phimosis (p<0.001). 62 (16%) were prescribed topical steroids (more likely in older boys, p<0.001). 70 (18%) were offered surgery: circumcisions (n = 51), preputioplasties (n = 13), other (n = 4). The circumcision rate was therefore 12%. Age at referral was positively correlated with GP trial of steroid (older more likely), diagnosis (physiological phimosis more likely if younger) and outcome (topical steroids or surgery more likely if older): Spearman's rank correlation p<0.001.


      Over 75% of boys referred had a normal foreskin, over half were discharged at their first review. Improved knowledge amongst parents and primary care providers could reduce referrals and save money and resources.

      Level of evidence

      Level IV - Case series with no comparison group.


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