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Spinal surgery for babies in the womb among new NHS treatments

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Spinal surgery for babies in the womb is among new, innovative treatments that will be routinely available on the NHS for the first time, NHS England has announced.

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

“NHS England is determined to ensure every penny is wisely spent”

Stephen Powis

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.

The life-changing procedure is among several new treatments that are being made routinely available on the NHS in England.

Others 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, according to NHS England.

Another new treatment, for pulmonary arterial hypertension, is a tablet to relax and widen the blood vessels connected to the heart and lungs to avoid damage and potentially heart failure.

“Any medical advances which will potentially improve the outcomes for a baby born with spina bifida is very good news”

Kate Steele

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.

The latest additions follow the introduction earlier this year of a life extending treatment for liver cancer patients, an additional treatment for pancreatic cancer and a new treatment for a rare genetic condition which leads to severe obesity in children.

All the proposed new treatments were independently assessed for their clinical benefit and cost by the Clinical Priorities Advisory Group comprising doctors, health experts and patient representatives.

The second round of investment decisions for 2019-20, which will take place in May, will consider further treatments that could be introduced by June 2019.

Professor Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, said: “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.”

“We’ll be working with tuberous sclerosis complex clinics across England to help them get ready”

Louise Fish

Kate Steele, chief executive of charity SHINE, said: “Although open pre-natal surgery is not a cure for spina bifida, and is not suitable for every pregnancy, any medical advances which will potentially improve the health and social outcomes for a baby born with spina bifida is very good news.

“Pre-natal surgery has been practised for several years in other countries, but now that the surgery is set to be procured in the UK will mean that far fewer parents-to-be will have to travel abroad and stay far from home for the surgery,” she said.

Louise Fish, chief executive of the Tuberous Sclerosis Association, said: “We’re delighted that NHS England has decided to fund this life-changing and potential life-saving treatment from April 2019 onwards.

“We’ll be working with tuberous sclerosis complex clinics across England to help them get ready to prescribe this drug to more people who can benefit from it,” she added.

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