Under pressure, British NHS finally agrees to pay for surgery for toddler with exceedingly rare heart condition

Olivier Cameron will go to Boston’s Children’s Hospital

By Dave Andrusko

Oliver’s parents had been frantically fundraising to pay for the surgery themselves. Here Oliver is with his mother, Lydia CREDIT: TELEGRAPH

Oliver’s parents had been frantically fundraising to pay for the surgery themselves. Here Oliver is with his mother, Lydia CREDIT: TELEGRAPH

Editor’s note. My family and I will be on vacation through August 25. I will occasionally add new items but for the most part we will repost “the best of the best” — the stories our readers have told us they especially liked over the last ten months.

In an unanticipated turn of events, last night the British National Health Service (NHS) finally agreed to pay for seven-month-old Oliver Cameron to go to Boston’s Children’s Hospital for surgery to remove an extremely rare heart tumor. The son of Tim and Lydia Cameron will be moved after his first birthday (to give him the best chances post-surgery) or earlier if his condition worsens.

“An NHS spokesperson denied there had been a U-turn in Oliver’s case,” The Mirror reported. Really?

The NHS’s willingness to pay the estimated $194,000 comes less than two weeks after Great Ormond Street Hospital denied the parents of Charlie Gard the opportunity to take Charlie to New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center for experimental therapy. Charlie died July 28 when his ventilator was disconnected.

Chris Gard and Connie Yates had raised all the money required to bring him to New York City. Tim and Lydia Cameron had already raised most –$169,000– of what was needed.

They were extremely gracious in their response. Writing on social media, the Camerons’ said, “It appears due to generous public support… and the persistent support of Oliver’s consultant that this change of decision has been confirmed.”

The latter is an allusion to Oliver’s physician at Southampton General Hospital in Hampshire, U.K. He “reportedly decided to support his parents’ bid to find treatment elsewhere because having U.K. surgeons perform the operation would be ‘extremely high risk,’” according to the Daily Telegraph.

Oliver was born with cardiac fibroma, an incredibly rare heart tumor. He is said to be one of only three known cases in the United Kingdom and 200 around the world. “His tumour produces an extra electrical pulse which prompts his heart to rate at a dangerously high level,” the Daily Telegraph reported.

“He needs medication four times a day and his parents have to monitor his heart rate and carry a defibrillator at all times,” the Daily Mail reports. “In the first sixth months of his life Oliver’s heart has had to be shocked three times. Emergency medication was given to save him on another three occasions.”

The official explanation for the NHS’s new position is that this is highly technical surgery and there is no one in the country trained to perform it; that such surgery has been successful elsewhere (Children’s Hospital’s success rate with 20 children is 100%); and because the NHS “is considering sending a British surgeon to accompany Oliver and his parents to learn how to conduct the procedure.”

This justification rings hollow on all three grounds. The NHS has known all along they have no one with the technical expertise. The NHS had to know about Boston’s Children’s Hospital sterling record with children with similar heart conditions. And the chance for a British surgeon to learn the technique didn’t suddenly magically appear last night. It was there from the beginning.

Moreover how bad would it have looked if the Camerons had completed raising the entire $194,000, took Oliver to Children’s Hospital without the NHS’s help, and the surgery was a success?

Professor Dominic Wilkinson, from the Oxford Centre for Neuroethics, was candid in his explanation. At the same time he said the Charlie Gard case was “unlikely to have influenced their decision,” he also acknowledged, “I think the intense attention from the Charlie Gard case is likely to make those decision makers more conscious that they are under greater scrutiny and therefore that they have to be particularly careful in making a fair decision.”

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