Posted on June 30, 2011 by Editor

NHS patients being denied sight-saving cataract surgery

NHS cost cutting could force people to live with avoidable sight loss, according to a new report released this week. The Royal National Institute of Blind People and the Royal College of Opthalmologists concluded in a joint report that many NHS Trusts are restricting access to cataract operations, to try and solve cash-flow problems in the run up to the new financial year.

According to the RNIB, the NHS carried out around 330,000 cataract operations in 2008/09, saving the sight of hundreds of thousands of patients. “However, despite it being an operation proven to be a safe, clinically and cost effective intervention people are starting to miss out; Thousands may end up living with sight loss unnecessarily” said the Institute.

The report claims that elderly patients forced to wait or denied cataract operations may be left unable to drive, read or write as they have to wait longer for surgery. The study, which looked at the policies of 133 PCTs across the UK, found that 53 per cent are restricting access to cataract surgery and introducing ‘visual accuity’ threshold testing on either the first or second eye. The author of the report has suggested that PCTs are seeing cataract surgery as an ‘easy target’ for cuts and were ignoring guidelines that suggest cataract surgery should be performed when it is in the patients’ best interests.

After having cataract surgery in one eye, Dennis Sleigh, a 69-year-old singer song-writer from Derby, was told that because the visual accuity in his second eye appears to be good, he cannot have the cataract surgery: “I have told them that I am struggling with my writing and with driving. I think that’s what should count, not an artificial rule based on visual acuity. After all, there is all this talk about a patient-centred NHS. For me that means that they should fix my eye so I don’t have to rely on other people for transport and I can continue doing what I love most.”

Get the full RNIB report here

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