Row over hand surgery funding

Hand Transplant man Mark Cahill pictured at his home at Greetland
Hand Transplant man Mark Cahill pictured at his home at Greetland
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A surgeon who performed the UK’s first hand transplant on a Calderdale man a year ago today(Fri) has spoken out because no other patients have been given one.

Mark Cahill, of Greetland, is gradually regaining feeling in the hand following the pioneering operation, performed by Prof Simon Kay and his team at Leeds General Infirmary.

But no further operations have since been carried out despite two patients being assessed as suitable for the procedure and it might be 2015 at the earliest before they can undergo surgery.

The delays follow the biggest-ever reconfiguration of the NHS.

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which have been given charge of the bulk of NHS spending including hand transplant surgery, are refusing to finance the operations, claiming it is the responsibility of NHS England which pays for specialised care.

The funding dispute is believed to be among a number due to the complex shake-up in April.

Internationally-renowned specialist Prof Kay, who heads the transplant team in Leeds, said he was frustrated at the delay.

Both patients, one from the East of England and another from London, could be operated on “immediately” if funding of £66,000 for the first year was available, with further life-time costs mainly for anti-rejection drugs running into several thousand pounds a year.

“We are saying this is clearly the responsibility of the CCGs. If they want to say no to it, they have to give a good clinical reason and there isn’t one,”

said Prof Kay.

“Surgery would be life transforming for both patients. We could go ahead now – we are up and ready to go.

“NHS England have been very constructive. The people who haven’t got up to speed are the CCGs in this respect. We certainly hope it can be resolved.

“They really do need to understand the value for their patients and move quickly.”

Instead a patient from Scotland is likely to be the next to undergo a transplant in the summer as funding north of the border, which has had no re-organisation, is available.

Prof Kay added: “It will mean a Scottish patient will have treatment in England when an English patient can’t at the moment. It really does need to be sorted out.”

The team say they are very pleased with the progress of Mr Cahill, who is gaining improved movement and feeling in his new hand.

Mr Cahill, 52, said: “It’s something I’ve been very proud to have. I think it’s super.”

He left the infirmary three weeks after the transplant but regularly attends the hospital for physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychology, as well as checks from the team.

NHS England said: “The specialised services that are the responsibility of NHS England are set out in regulations and are determined by Ministers.

“Other hospital services are the responsibility of CCGs, including, at present, hand transplant.

“Ministers are looking at whether, during the next phase of deciding which services will be specialised, this service should become a prescribed service.

“In the meantime it remains the responsibility of CCGs to decide whether this surgery should be funded or not.”