As part of a huge boost in funding for research into child prosthetics, the Department of Health has earmarked £750,000 for a project to bring together clinical practitioners, industry and families to shape the development of new technology.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the arm of the NHS responsible for funding research that translates into better patient care, will lead a project – the national Child Prosthetics Research Collaboration - that will bring together clinicians and academics working in the field and the children who use prosthetics every day.
The aim of the project is to stimulate research and to ensure innovation around child prosthetics reaches the NHS more quickly and on a larger scale. It will also raise the general profile of the prosthetics community, identify where specific needs are not being met and hopefully influence future funding.
The research will particularly focus on five key areas:
Choice: giving users a choice (type, style, colour, design) to meet their particular life requirements.
Comfort: providing adequate support and comfort to optimise function and user independence.
Capability: enabling products to meet the individual lifestyle requirements of the user.
Cosmesis: wherever possible, providing products that are cosmetically acceptable to the user.
Caring: enabling those engaging with users to understand the needs of disabled people.
It will also focus on the challenges for industry for developing products that can adapt to the development and growth of a child amputee with an eye on improving comfort, posture and protecting against the risk of musculoskeletal deformation.
Parents of children who are missing a limb are invited to respond to a survey, with a selection then invited to participate in wider research.
Obviously, any initiative that will improve the lives of children born without a limb or who have lost a limb is more than welcome. But, what's particularly exciting about this study is the emphasis on enabling child amputees to take part in everyday childhood pursuits and sport.
The huge success of Team GB in the Paralympics both in London in 2012 and last year in Rio has inspired a generation of children to take part in sport and to aim high.
The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said about the project:
"Every child should be able to participate in sport. Investing in the latest child prosthetic research and technology will ensure hundreds more children have access to sports prosthetics and help support every child who either has been born without a limb or who has lost a limb to lead an active life."
Brilliant medal-winning athletes such as Andy Lewis, who took gold in the triathlon in Rio, have brought home to children, and their parents, the possibilities of competing at every level with a prosthetic.
For those dreams to become reality, it is vital to understand what individual children specifically need from their prosthetics growing up and to properly fund the technology to deliver on the promise. This NIHR collaboration is a great place to start.