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This article was published in July 2015. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Deep brain stimulation – disappointment for English patients

3 Jul 2015

A promising treatment to reduce a person's seizure frequency has failed to get approval for use on the English NHS. This is despite evidence that it might be in the best interests of patients

The treatment is called deep brain stimulation (DBS). It is a surgical technique that involves having an implanted pulse generator (IPG) put into the brain. The IPG behaves like a 'brain pacemaker', delivering electrical pulses to carefully selected regions of the brain to reduce seizure activity.

The technique has been found useful in treating some movement disorders. In people with epilepsy whose seizures have not been controlled with traditional means, DBS can offer a reduction in seizure frequency and severity. It can also improve movement and control.

A policy document has been written and submitted to NHS England. This document recommends that the treatment be approved for certain patients in limited circumstances to help control their seizures. Despite a weight of scientific evidence supporting this recommendation, DBS has not been approved for patients on the English NHS.

It is unclear why – and represents a disappointing result for people with epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled. The treatment can be extremely successful, as in the case of Lisa – who took part in Epilepsy Action's Seize control campaign earlier this year.

After living with epilepsy all her life, Lisa was only the third person in the UK to receive DBS treatment for epilepsy. Lisa's device is still being optimised by her doctors, but the signs are positive. Her seizures are less frequent and Lisa has shown improvements in her thinking abilities and communication. Read more about Lisa's experiences.

Simon Wigglesworth is Epilepsy Action's deputy chief executive. He says: “We can see from Lisa's story the benefits DBS can bring to people with very difficult-to-control epilepsy. That other people in her situation are going to be denied this treatment is really disappointing. We have already contacted NHS England to try and find out the reasons behind the decision and will be fighting hard to get the decision overturned."

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