More children with drug–resistant epilepsy are now able to have surgery at Alder Hey, following the expansion of children’s epilepsy services across England.
The NHS has announced today that Alder Hey Children’s Hospital and Manchester Children’s Hospital will jointly become one of four specialist services in the country, along with Birmingham Children’s Hospital, Bristol Children’s Hospital and Great Ormond Street Hospital. The expansion of this highly specialised surgery will benefit children with drug resistant epilepsy across the country.
Epilepsy is a tendency to have recurrent seizures and affects around 600,000 people in the UK. Seizures are caused by a sudden burst of excess electrical activity in the brain, causing temporary disruption in the normal message passing between brain cells. However, approximately one third of patients do not respond to medication, continuing to experience seizures. For a proportion of this group brain surgery can be highly effective, leading to seizure freedom in up to 80 per cent of cases.
The announcement to expand specialist brain surgery and assessment for children with epilepsy follows the Safe and Sustainable review of children’s neurosurgical services. During the review, clinical evidence emerged which suggested that there are significant advantages for performing early epilepsy surgery during the first five years of life. As there is currently one main centre carrying out this type of surgery, England performs fewer than half the number of suitable procedures in comparison with other countries. From November 2012, the existing services in the other designated hospitals will be developed, enabling doctors to treat three times as many patients as they currently do.
A recent report by 'Young Epilepsy' (formerly The National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy) estimated up to 300 more children a year could benefit from this treatment in England and Wales . Today’s announcement will see a trebling in the number of children treated each year from 125 to approximately 350 by 2015-16.
Sasha Burn, Consultant Neurosurgeon said: “Treating epilepsy patients using surgery is already taking place at Alder Hey. We are currently the only hospital in the country to have a 3-T intra-operative MRI scanner (funded by a £3million donation from the Barclay Foundation), able to identify incredibly small lesions on the brain and which has already proved invaluable in performing successful surgery on epilepsy patients.
“The decision to increase the number of specialist services across England will be hugely beneficial for children and their families. The expansion of the service means more children can be treated and operated on earlier which will make a massive positive difference to their life.”
Ian Lewis, Medical Director at Alder Hey said: “We are delighted to be working with Manchester Children’s Hospital in providing this highly specialised surgery. We are extremely proud of our neurosurgery service here at Alder Hey and today’s announcement is a fantastic reflection of the expertise and skills already being offered by our superb neurosciences team.”
Epilepsy Action’s Deputy Chief Executive, Simon Wigglesworth said: “We’re delighted with today’s announcement which will be of great benefit to children with epilepsy and their families. This is a huge move forward that will help build skills and expertise in the field of epilepsy. Most importantly it will give more children with difficult to control epilepsy a chance to have surgery which could significantly impact on their quality of lives. We would strongly encourage those responsible for the care of children with difficult to control epilepsy to evaluate their patients and consider whether they may be suitable for surgery and refer them to the new centres for assessment.”
“There is strong evidence that the sooner the surgery is performed the better the long term outcome for the child’s development. This announcement makes that life changing treatment available to more children.”
Children when referred to these services will undergo a series of specialist investigations and assessments to determine whether a child is suitable for surgery. One challenge will be ensuring suitable children are referred in a timely fashion.
Anne Moore, President of the Society of British Neurological Surgeons, said: “We welcome today’s announcement of new investment in vital services for children with severe epilepsy to make them safe and sustainable in future. This will enable more children to benefit from this specialised treatment which can have huge quality of life benefits.”