Deaf children to get 'life-changing' surgery

Author: Mark Gould
Deaf children to get 'life-changing' surgery

Pioneering brain surgery that allows children who are deaf to experience the sensation of hearing for the first time is to be made routinely available.

NHS England has announced that Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust in London will offer cutting-edge auditory brainstem implant surgery. It will be available for children who are profoundly deaf, aged five or under, who are unable to use conventional hearing aids or implants because their cochlea or auditory nerve did not develop properly.

The complex procedure involves inserting a device directly into the brain to stimulate hearing pathways, bypassing the cochlea and auditory nerve that have not developed properly. It is estimated that about 15 children per year would be assessed for auditory brainstem implantation and that about nine would go on to have the surgery, which costs around £60,000 per patient.

After the implant has been inserted, long-term support is crucial to help children learn to listen and understand new signals from their implant. This may be as simple as recognising their own name being called, but it may also involve understanding simple phrases.

The national service is being led by neurosurgeon, Mr Scott Rutherford, from Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor Dan Jiang, from Guys and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, who will work with a dedicated team of highly specialised surgeons, audiologists and speech and language therapists.

Mr Rutherford said: “Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust is delighted to be chosen as one of only two centres in the UK to offer auditory brainstem implants as a treatment for children born without hearing nerves.

“A commitment by NHS England to fund the service for children will secure its future and allow more families to benefit from our clinical expertise.”

And Professor Jiang, added: “The London Auditory Brainstem Implant service located at St Thomas’ Hospital has combined the clinical expertise from Guy’s and St Thomas’, University College London Hospital, King’s College Hospital and four hearing implant centres in London, it will provide easy access to this highly specialised service for all children with these rare conditions.”

Professor Stephen Powis, NHS medical director, said: “This truly life-changing surgery, which allows youngsters to hear their parents’ voices for the first time, will now be available across England for children who are deaf who have no other options.

“As we put the NHS Long Term Plan into practice, the health service will continue to make the very latest, innovative treatments, like this, available to patients across the country along with world class care.”

Gemma Twitchen, senior audiologist at the charity Action on Hearing Loss, said: “Its fantastic news that some deaf children, who are unable to wear conventional hearing aids or implants due to under developed cochlear or auditory nerves, will be given the option to be assessed for pioneering surgery and long-term support they need to access the sensation of sound. Whilst this will only affect a small group of children per year, it’s positive to see some forward thinking, with services for deafness hearing loss being implemented as opposed to cut and parents given greater choice to support their child.”