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New surgical procedure available for children with cerebral palsy following NIHR research

Published: 30 April 2019

Children with cerebral palsy will now be offered a surgical procedure that can improve their ability to walk, after an analysis by NIHR researchers showed it to be effective.

Cerebral palsy is the name for a group of lifelong conditions that affect movement and coordination, caused by abnormal development or damage to the brain that occurs before, during or soon after birth. In the UK around 1,700 children every year are born with cerebral palsy.

The new procedure, known as selective dorsal rhizotomy, involves cutting some of the sensory nerves from the legs as they enter the spinal cord, to relieve stiffness, improve mobility and reduce children’s pain levels.

Previously, it was not clear whether this irreversible operation improved children’s quality of life, or what the longer term effects were.

Researchers at the NIHR Guy's and St Thomas' Biomedical Research Centre were commissioned by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to find out whether selective dorsal rhizotomy did improve outcomes for these children with cerebral palsy.

Their results, published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health, showed the procedure benefitted children by improving their movement, quality of life and levels of pain. They also found that there were no significant health risks to the children from the procedure.

This evidence was strong enough that NHS England has decided to fund the procedure for eligible children aged 3-9 years.

Professor Janet Peacock, data analytics co-lead at the NIHR Guy’s and St Thomas’ Biomedical Research Centre and Professor of Medical Statistics at King’s College London, said: “We were commissioned to fill an evidence gap around selective dorsal rhizotomy for treating cerebral palsy – previous trials didn’t look at children’s quality of life and there was not enough evidence about how children fared in the longer term. Our study provided convincing evidence that the procedure helped the children.

“NHS England have now decided that this procedure will be funded as a direct result of this innovative project. It’s great to get this decision so that it will make a difference to patients.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is a revolutionary treatment which has the power to transform the lives of young children with cerebral palsy and give fresh hope to their families. Every parent dreams of seeing their children live long, healthy and happy lives and I’m absolutely delighted the NHS is funding this new procedure as part of our Long Term Plan.”

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