Thursday, December 20, 2007

Last man standing

In parallel with all of Tom's successes and developmental achievements over the past 18 months another story has been unfolding. As Tom's every achievement has lifted us further away from the desperation and hopelessness we felt in April 2006, our celebrations have been tempered by the ongoing struggles with the Primary Care Trust (PCT; the local branch of the NHS) around funding. In a partially successful exercise in self-therapy I avoided the subject here - I fought hard to get you regular readers; the last thing you needed was me harping on about how hard done by Tom was when there was obviously so much to be grateful for.

That wasn't the only reason I refrained...

Way back in August 2006 when we first appealed against the PCT's decision not to provide simultaneous bilateral implants a print-out of this blog appeared in the papers distributed for the appeal hearing. I don't think Nottinghamshire PCT's budget stretches to a full-time 'blog-watcher' (jeez, I sincerely hope not - that would be one irony too many) but I didn't want to risk any chances we had of securing some sort of funding result by bad-mouthing the Chief Executive on a daily basis here.

The situation has moved on and my mood of restrained optimism has moved with it so, at the risk of being repetitive, let me give a brief resume of events to date so as to put the latest news into context.

  1. Tom contracted pneumococcal meningitis in mid-April 2006. About 24 hours after first displaying symptoms we now know to be the onset of the illness, our local GP sent us home suggesting he had a tummy bug.
  2. After Tom's profound hearing loss was diagnosed he was rapidly referred for cochlear implantation. The implant team asked the PCT for simultaneous bilateral implantation. The East Midlands Commissioning Group said no - he could just have one even though the recommended treatment for post-meningitic deafness was bilaterals all the way.
  3. Tom had his first implant on 15th June and was activated a month later. We initiated an appeal against the PCT's decision not to fund simulataneous bilaterals. The appeal date was set for 1st August 2006.
  4. Our appeal to the PCT is rejected on the same day that the Times report a successful outcome elsewhere in the country. We initiate the complaints process with the Healthcare Commission - the outcome is not expected for 4- 6 months.
  5. Also in August, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) began their technology appraisal of cochlear implants. The scope included the cost effectiveness of bilateral implantation. They are scheduled to report their recommendations in April 2008. NICE recommendations effectively dictate spending policy across the country. It is in their absence where PCTs are left to their own devices.
  6. September 2006 and vaccination against pneumococcus - the bacteria that caused Tom's meningitis - is included in the national immunisation programme. It has been drastically reducing cases of meningitis across the western world for some years - not in the UK until this date though.
  7. Given the risk of ossification, we decide to proceed with a second implant for Tom, opting to pay for it privately. This takes place on 23rd September 2006. Throughout this period we read about, and speak to, numerous families going through the same process. Some are successful, others are not.
  8. In April 2007, a family in neighbouring Derbyshire were successful in their appeal for bilaterals for their 10 year old post-meningitic son. Because of the similarities to our case, and as our counties share a common policy, I felt it worthy of a mention to both the PCT and the Healthcare Commission who were 7 months into their investigation.
    The PCT informed me that they weren't about to change their decision. The Healthcare Commission were a little more polite and added the information to the pile, thus extending the investigation by another four months.
  9. August 2007 and the Healthcare Commission send us a long and rambling letter addressing each of the (many) objections I had made to the PCT's appeal decision a year previously. The upshot was that the PCT had been perfectly at liberty to make the decision they did. The Healthcare Commission doesn't question policies - just that you've followed them correctly.
  10. During the summer our focus shifts from Tom's language development - which was (and still is) racing along - to his balance and coordination. It becomes evident that the legacy of the brain damage suffered as a result of the meningitis is greater than we originally thought.
  11. The arrival of the bill for the second year of Tom's care for his 'private' implant spurs us into throwing ourselves against the brick wall that is the PCT one more time. We write with the assumption that recompense isn't likely and request that they take over the aftercare of the second implant - an annual cost of around less than £3000 for the next two years and less than £2000 after that. The case is referred to the Individual Case Review Committee, an august body that will only accept submissions from clinicians, who will hear the appeal on the 13th December. We talk to our implant team, community paediatrician and GP (family doctor), all of whom make strong cases on our behalf.
    They cite his additional needs due to the meningitis, a powerful (and terrifying) example of which was published this year, as well as pointing out the unusual stance that Nottinghamshire PCT were taking given national trends.
    Guess what? They turned us down again. It isn't the NHS's responsibility to take over the care of a privately funded procedure. Forget everything else.
  12. Today, NICE published their Appraisal Consultation document - essentially their draft report.
    They recommend, and I quote:

Simultaneous bilateral cochlear implantation is recommended as an option for the following groups with severe to profound deafness who do not receive adequate benefit from acoustic hearing aids as defined in 1.3.

  • prelingual children
  • children and adults who are registered as blind
  • children and adults who are at risk of ossification of the cochlea (for example after meningitis).
which - if I read it correctly, would give Tom simultaneous bilaterals on two out of the three counts.

I have yet to ask the PCT what they make of it for fear of using up one of my 'lives' (I can ask the Case Review panel to take another look and appeal that if necessary). My pessimistic fear, and I think you might agree that I have grounds for this, is that the PCT will treat this news in isolation, state that it only applies from the date of publication and retrospective 'tidying up' is out of the question. You have to hand it to them. Each decision, without considering the whole case, the context of national trends or research, has been defensible. They haven't broken any rules.

The point I'd like to leave you with is this. I had a chat with the coordinator of CICS a night or two ago. She has knowledge of the vast majority of implantees across the country, logging their circumstances and status re: uni/bilaterals.

She couldn't name one other post-meningitic child who has not had PCT-funded bilateral implants over the last couple of years at least. We've tried to find them to compare notes - it's what you do in this club.

Do you know where they are...?


Anonymous said...
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Jennifer said...

I'm so far behind that it ain't funny....but I wanted to say that I hoped your family had a great Christmas holiday! Is Tom properly spoiled now? You were thought of...I just didn't have time to get around to all my blogs! :)