Technology has previously only been available to those injured in military service
Credit: Open Bionics
The NHS is to offer sophisticated bionic arms – designed to replicate human hand movements – to all patients who need them.
The arms are controlled by brain signals and offer various different types of grip and movement to enable users to perform a greater range of tasks. This requires patients to retain “enough residual upper arm muscles to send signals that create intuitive movements”, according to the NHS.
The technology has previously only been offered to those injured in military service. The Hero Arm from Bristol-based specialist firm Open Bionics – which is pictured above – was the first model to be offered via the NHS, when it was provided in 2020 to Darren Fuller, a former member of Parachute Regiment who, while serving in Afghanistan in 2008, lost his right hand and forearm in a mortar ammunition explosion.
The use of bionic arms with veterans since then has been judged a success by two independent reviews, the health service said, and the bionic arms will now be available throughout England to all amputees – including children as young as nine.
Previously, the NHS has offered many patients prosthetic arms with only limited gripping and movement capability – or, in some cases, models that were purely cosmetic. All eligible patients will now be assessed to judge which type of prosthetic best suits their circumstances and, where appropriate, will be offered the most sophisticated bionic models.
NHS chief executive Amanda Pritchard said: “These incredible multi-grip prosthetics have already made a huge difference to veterans and so it is fantastic to be able to offer them to all patients in England who need them. The arms, for both children and adults, use the very latest tech which will boost peoples’ independence and change the lives of dozens across the country. The NHS is at the forefront of medical innovation and this rollout is the latest example of how we are adopting the best medical advances for patients.”
Almost three years on from receiving his bionic arm, Fuller welcomed the news that the technology will now be offered to many more people.
“It will massively change peoples’ lives because they will be able to do things more independently – they have amazing functionality; I can hold a paint brush and paint or pick up a glass and drink from it,” he said. ““I have a seven-year-old daughter and it allows me to do a lot more with her such as arts and crafts. I don’t feel excluded from any part of her life anymore and there’s not much I can’t do with her. It will be like Christmas for those people who are eligible for this, have wanted one and been waiting for this day.”