A FAMILY that raised £65,000 to fund life-changing surgery for their disabled daughter has welcomed news the procedure will now be available on the NHS.
Later this year, seven-year-old Scarlett Hewitt, who has cerebral palsy, will undergo a specialist operation in the US to help her walk unaided.
Her parents, Lisa and John Hewitt, launched a campaign to raise money to fund the procedure after being told it would not be funded by the NHS.
This week, barely a month after they reached their target following donations from more than 1,000 people, NHS England announced that Selective Dorsal Rhizotomy (SDR) will be made available to 120 children a year.
It said the surgery had not previously been funded because, although it is a "promising" treatment, "current evidence about its effectiveness... is limited".
Five hospitals across the country will now carry out the surgery in order to assess the benefits to children with cerebral palsy, a condition which can lead to difficulties in movement, balance and posture.
Scarlett, from New Addington, cannot stand without help, suffers painful cramps and struggles with routine tasks such as getting dressed.
Mrs Hewitt told the Advertiser she was pleased that children will not have to travel half way across the world to access SDR. "Dealing with a child with a disability is hard enough, let alone then having them accepted for an operation only to be told the funding isn't available," she said.
"We then had to go through the struggle and stress of worrying how we were going to raise the money.
"Now other families in the same situation won't have to go through it too."
Despite the surgery now being available in England, Mrs Hewitt is confident things have worked out as well as they possibly could for her daughter, who will undergo SDR at St Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri.
"Scarlett's going to the top neurosurgeon in the US, who has had nearly 3,000 patients and has 30 years' experience," she explained.
"Given that it will be available to only 120 children in the England, part of me wonders how many more years she would have had to wait, because she may not have been selected in the first round."
The campaign took just four months to reach the £65,000 target after it was launched in March, receiving 1,211 donations from friends, well-wishers and even Premier League footballers. Mrs Hewitt said the generosity had "restored her faith in humanity".
SDR is a complex procedure which involves opening up the bones of the spine and lower back to operate on the nerves to improve mobility.
James Palmer, clinical director of specialised services at NHS England, said SDR "shows real promise" and needed to be explored further.
He added: "Not only will this enable a number of children to have potentially life-changing surgery, improving their mobility and independence, but this provides a real opportunity to get the vital evidence we need on the effectiveness of the procedure."
Mrs Hewitt said: "There are a lot of people out there with cerebral palsy who could benefit from this operation. Good luck to everyone who is in this situation.
"If there's any chance their child can get more independence in the future then I hope they all succeed."