Thousands of patients struggling to drive and even read are wrongly being denied sight-saving surgery, according to eye health professionals.
By Richard Alleyne The Telegraph
5:30AM BST 13 Aug 2012
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and other health bodies say it is alarming that more than half of NHS trusts are denying patients cataract operations unless they fail stringent eye tests.
They say the threshold means that many people whose quality of life is severely damaged by the condition are still not eligible for the operations because of cost-cutting measures.
Some 720,000 people are diagnosed with cataracts each month, leaving them with blurred vision.
It is estimated that about half of people over the age of 65 suffer from cataracts in one or both eyes.
But Freedom of Information requests lodged by the Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) found 57 per cent of England’s 152 primary care trusts used eye test thresholds to determine who qualified for surgery.
It is also recognised that the condition can cause other problems such as double vision or disabling glare from lights, even though their eye test results will be relatively unaffected.
The urgent warning statement was issued jointly by the Royal College, the College of Optometrists, Optical Confederation and Local Optical Committee Support Unit.
Andrew Lansley, the health minister, and the Department of Health has issued a strong rebuke to rationing access to cataract surgery through blanket use of eye tests alone.
Professor Harminder Dua, President of The RCO, strongly advised that it is clinically unsound to determine access to cataract surgery on the basis of eye tests or “visual acuity” alone.
He said that the patients should be offered the surgery of the condition could be shown to affect their daily lives, such as the impact on their ability to work, drive or look after themselves.
“We understand the financial pressures the NHS faces but cataract surgery is a highly cost effective treatment that improves sight loss and preserves patients’ ability to live independent lives,” he said in the statement.
“Using visual acuity thresholds to impose limits on cataract surgery is economically counterproductive when it leads to higher health and social care costs because patients’ vision deteriorates.”
He said there was also concern that when a sufferer had both eyes affected by cataracts that NHS primary care trust s (PCTs) were only offering surgery to treat one.
The RNIB undertook the same survey last year and found similar results, leading to it conclude there had been “no improvement” in the situation, “despite strong evidence that delaying surgery ends up costing not just the patient but the health service as a whole”.