Thousands of elderly people in Britain are left to go blind because of rationing of eye surgery in the National Health Service, a report revealed on Saturday.
The Times newspaper said a survey by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCO) found tens of thousands of elderly people are left struggling to see because of an NHS cost-cutting drive that relies on them dying before they can qualify for cataract surgery.
The survey has found that the NHS has ignored instructions to end cataract treatment rationing in defiance of official guidance two years ago.
The RCO said its survey has found 62 percent of eye units retain policies that require people’s vision to have deteriorated below a certain point before surgery is funded.
With more than 400,000 cataract operations carried out each year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) concluded that there was no justification for policies that denied patients cataract removal surgery until they could barely see.
The RCO said that refusal to fund surgery was insulting and called into question the entire system through which the NHS approves treatments.
Helen Lee of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said: “Cataracts can have a dramatic impact on someone’s ability to lead a full and independent life, potentially stopping them from driving and increasing their chance of serious injury by falling. The NICE guidelines make it clear cataract surgery is highly cost effective and should not be rationed. It is nonsensical for clinical commissioning groups to deny patients this crucial treatment.”
Julie Wood, CEO of NHS Clinical Commissioners, which represents local funding bodies, defended the restrictions.
She told the Times: “NICE guidance is not mandatory and clinical commissioners must have the freedom to make clinically led decisions that are in the best interests of both individual patients and their wider local populations. The NHS does not have unlimited resources.”