A Government decision on the use of 'microprocessor controlled prosthetic knees' for people who have had above-knee leg amputations has been long awaited. The original proposal was put to NHS England back in 2013, but concerns over centralised funding to ensure consistent access for amputees has led to protracted consultation. Now the Government has finally announced that these advanced prostheses will be made available to NHS patients.
Historically, NHS prosthetics have been relatively basic, meaning they were very often uncomfortable for the wearer and had only limited functionality. Over recent years, private companies have developed hugely sophisticated prosthetic joints and limbs, as anyone who has watched the Paralympic Games has witnessed.
These highly developed prosthetics have been life-changing for some amputees, improving their health, functional ability and general outlook on life. They are, however, expensive and many amputees need more than one prosthetic. There are different types for everyday use and others specialised for sports, including separate waterproof prostheses for swimming and any number of cosmetic covers. Most amputees simply cannot afford the purchase price, which can easily run to tens of thousands of pounds. Once fitted, each prosthesis also needs regular maintenance every year and has a finite life span, requiring replacement every few years, depending on the level of use.
Now the Government has confirmed that the NHS will offer above-knee amputees sophisticated prosthetics incorporating microprocessors that give precise function and stability to artificial knee joints. These tiny processors embedded in the joint can adapt to the individual wearer, according to gait, speed and terrain and respond automatically to changes without the wearer having to accommodate the limitations of more basic prostheses.
Welcoming the news, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team says: "We know from advising clients who have had to undergo amputation that their quality of life and sense of self is very dependent on the activities to which they are able to return. Many find themselves socially isolated and financially impoverished following amputation, unable to work, concerned about how society perceives them and lacking confidence.
"This announcement opens the door for these people to access high quality prosthetics funded by the NHS and to regain some of the function that the rest of us take for granted. Funding will also need to cover the intensive rehabilitation required for wearers to learn to use their prosthesis and maximise the potential benefits, as well as providing more comprehensive and timely maintenance and support when repairs, servicing and replacements are needed. It is hoped in due course that funding can be made available for improvements in NHS provision to those with lower level and other amputations as well."