Youngsters with a growth condition that gives them a mis-shapen chest could be spared painful rib-cracking surgery thanks to a simple brace.
However, scores of teenagers miss out on the non-invasive treatment, which can help boost body image and self-esteem.
The brace is designed to correct pectus carinatum, commonly known as pigeon chest, where the cartilage that forms the centre of the ribcage grows and protrudes outwards, instead of being flush with the rest of the chest.
It works by gently exerting pressure on the growing ribcage, helping to flatten it.
But NHS funding watchdogs have yet to assess the device, which was launched in the UK six years ago. This means doctors must apply for funding on a case-by-case basis, and just a handful of UK hospitals currently offer the option.
‘It’s extremely frustrating that young patients are missing out on this simple but very effective treatment,’ says consultant chest surgeon Ian Hunt, an expert in pectus deformities at St George’s Hospital, London.
‘Many patients are denied any treatment because pectus carinatum is deemed a cosmetic problem, when there is clear evidence it causes a range of psychological and physical problems.’
Amanda Bradshaw’s 14-year-old son Lewis is currently being treated with the brace and she says the improvement in his chest after just seven months of wearing the brace is ‘already amazing’.
Amanda, a 45-year-old sales assistant from Chelmsford, says: ‘In the summer, after three months of wearing the brace, Lewis took off his T-shirt on the beach.
‘Before, he hated going swimming or getting changed for PE at school. Now, he’s got his confidence back.’
Pectus carinatum affects one or two children in every 1,000. The condition is often visible from birth but becomes more pronounced during puberty.
Often, the shape of the chest is the only sign a person is affected. However, some patients suffer chest pain, recurrent respiratory infections and asthma, and even heart problems as a result.
Last year, NHS England advised against offering it, as studies into whether the benefits outweighed the risks of such a major operation have proved inconclusive (file photo)