Spinal surgery for babies in the womb on the NHS

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

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.

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.

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, 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.”

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, and Shine welcomes this progress.

“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. They will be closer to the important family and medical support networks they will need before, during and after surgery.”

Louise Fish, chief executive of The Tuberous Sclerosis Association (TSA), 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 TSC clinics across England to help them get ready to prescribe this drug to more people who can benefit from it.”

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 (CPAG) 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.