New NHS guidance recommending a remote controlled device to treat curved spines could save hundreds of children from a "medieval" treatment.
The guidance from the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends that the NHS treats children aged 2 years and over who need surgery to correct their scoliosis with remote-controlled rods attached to their spines – instead of a series of operations to rectify the problem.
The health service is being urged to treat this group of children with the Magec (Magnetic Expansion Control) system – where expandable titanium rods are attached to the child's ribs or spine, near the curved section of vertebrae, in a similar way to the implantation of conventional rods.
But, unlike the conventional treatment, the system does not require periodical surgical incisions to lengthen the rods but instead relies on a remote control device that uses magnets to adjust them – a non-invasive procedure that can be done during an outpatient appointment, saving the child undergoing general anaesthetic.
As well as sparing the child multiple operations, the device could also save the NHS £12,000 for each patient, a Nice spokeswoman said,
Grandmother Jane Clarke, who lives near Holsworthy in Devon, helped to develop the guidance after the device was fitted to her 11-year-old grandson, Reece Fiander, saving him from four bouts of surgery in the two years since he was fitted with the system.
"We are over the moon about the guidance," she said. "The old way was medieval – watching a child undergo an operation is awful but it's even harder when it's a spinal operation.
"We have heard of children being turned down for funding over the last two years but, now this Nice guidance has been issued, we hope that other children won't have to go through the old way anymore.
"It will save them the physical and psychological trauma of having to undergo operations every six months. Reece had his fitted two years ago and has been spared four operations so far."
The new medical technology guidance recommends the use of the Magec system for children for whom standard methods to straighten and lengthen their spines such as a back brace have not worked.
Professor Carole Longson, director of the Centre for Health Technology Evaluation at Nice, said: "We are delighted to publish this guidance, which can help make a real difference to children who need surgery for a curved spine.
"The Nice guidance advises that the Magec system can benefit these children with scoliosis, and save the NHS money. Where standard treatment for scoliosis such as a back brace hasn't worked, the guidance says that the Magec system offers a real improvement over the current surgical option involving conventional growth rods.
"As well as benefits for the child, using Magec is estimated to potentially save the NHS around £12,000 per patient after six years compared with using conventional growth rods. This guidance encourages the NHS to consider using the Magec system for children who need surgical treatment for scoliosis."