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Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 17:27 GMT 18:27 UK


Family challenge NHS over artificial limbs

Laura's recovery has been boosted by her realistic artificial leg

By BBC Breakfast News reporter, Sumit Bose

The 25th of August 1998 is a day Tony and Mandy Giddings from the New Forest will never forget.

A family holiday in Cape Town turned into carnage as a bomb tore through the Planet Hollywood restaurant.

All the family were injured, but their eldest child Laura suffered the most, losing her left foot.

[ image: A bomb tore through the Planet Hollywood restaurant]
A bomb tore through the Planet Hollywood restaurant
Today she plays like any active nine year old . Her physical and psychological recovery has been boosted by an aritifical leg which has a realistic silicone coating.

But to get this her parents were forced to go private. Initially their local NHS hospital denied such prosthetics were available.

"We saw in South Africa a perfect looking child's leg" said Mandy Giddings, "we wanted no less for her, only to be told: 'It doesn't matter what the bloody thing looks like, it only has to work'."

Forced to go private

The silicone coated prosthetic cost £2,500 compared to the £750 basic leg offered by the NHS, but its look and feel meant the Giddings felt they had no other choice.

[ image: The Giddings wanted a perfect looking child's leg]
The Giddings wanted a perfect looking child's leg
Tony Giddings said: "We're not talking about cosmetics, this is not something that is superficial. Ask yourself this question - if you had to have something that looked different on yourself, how would you feel?"

Their own research finally lead the family to a nearby specialist orthopaedic centre where Laura was supplied with the silicon leg privately. Since then she has had three more - all paid for by the family.

Sumit Bose: " It looks like an issue that will dog the government for some time yet"
The Giddings can afford it, but say the NHS situation with limbs left them with no choice.

Mandy was told by the consultant that the NHS could not provide it and their insurance would not cover it: "I said we were going to provide it ourselves. He dismissed it out of hand completely.

He said children are growing all the time, it would be incredibly expensive and they don't really care what it looks like.

'I shouldn't waste your money' he said."


[ image: Today Laura plays like any active nine year old]
Today Laura plays like any active nine year old
The way Laura was treated is now being investigated by the local health authority. But the situation the family found themselves in is not unique.

Amputees who choose not to accept the NHS limb offered have no alternative but to pay the total cost of the private limb.

The family's MP, Dr Julian Lewis, says some form of top up system would be fairer: "If you choose to get a top of the range wheelchair, rather than take the free one from the NHS, the NHS will give you a sum of money equivalent to the cost of the free wheelchair, and that is precisely the argument with these limbs."

[ image: Silicone coated prosthetic limbs are much more expensive]
Silicone coated prosthetic limbs are much more expensive
In a statement the Department of Health said: " Health authorities can provide a product outside the range generally available if clinicians judge that there is a need to do so." But it added: "The Government does not intend to introduce a voucher scheme for artificial limbs. "

Whether the specifics of Laura Giddings case are resolved or not, her family intend to fight on to ensure that all NHS patients are entitled to the best artificial limbs that can be supplied.

It looks like an issue that will dog the government for some time yet.

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