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NHS to fund spinal surgery for unborn babies

Corrective spina bifida surgery among new treatments available from April

Mark Gould

Monday, 24 December 2018

Babies in the womb will be able to have surgery to correct problems related to spina bifida as part of a range of innovative treatments that will be routinely available on the NHS for the first time, it has been announced.

The cutting-edge procedure for unborn babies, whose spine and spinal cord do not develop properly, allows pregnant women to be treated closer to home and their families.

The surgery involves repairing the spinal tissue while the baby is still in the womb, which can reduce illnesses including bladder, bowel and kidney conditions later in life, and improve walking ability.

From April patients from all over England will be able to have the procedure, which surgeons from University College hospital and Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London jointly performed for the first time on two babies this summer.

Until now, mothers known to be carrying a baby with spina bifida have had to go to the US, Belgium or Switzerland to have the surgery. More than 200 babies a year are born with the condition, which is caused when a baby’s spine and spinal cord don’t develop properly in the womb, causing a gap in the spine.

Other new treatments to become routinely available on the NHS include:

  • A new drug, everolimus, for epileptic seizures caused by a genetic condition that causes benign tumours to develop in the body and brain, known as tuberous sclerosis complex. More than 300 people, mostly children, will benefit from this new treatment that reduces the number and severity of seizures, allowing children and adults with the condition to live a more normal life.
  • A new tablet to relax and widen the blood vessels connected to the heart and lungs to avoid damage and potentially heart failure. The treatment is for pulmonary arterial hypertension, a severe disease which causes high blood pressure in the blood vessels connecting the heart and lungs that leads to constant breathlessness, blackouts and fatigue.
Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, said: “The NHS leads the world on innovation, and the long-term plan will channel investment into some of the most advanced care and treatments anywhere in the world.

“NHS England is determined to ensure every penny is wisely spent, maximising the money available for life-saving, life-changing medicines and procedures like these.”

Funding for these new treatments will begin in April next year and is the result of NHS England’s latest specialised commissioning prioritisation process which takes place biannually to decide which new treatments to offer routinely on the NHS. All the proposed new treatments were independently assessed for their clinical benefit and cost by the Clinical Priorities Advisory Group- comprising of doctors, health experts and patient representatives.

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