Thousands of elderly are losing their sight as NHS rations cataract surgery
Thousands of elderly people are being denied the chance to save their sight with vital cataract surgery.
A report out today claims the life-changing procedure is subject to ‘arbitrary’ restrictions by the NHS across half the country.
Patients in some areas have been told their vision is still ‘too good’ for an operation, even though their cataracts are so severe they cannot drive or read.
In other regions pensioners are told only one eye will be treated, or forced to wait eight months for surgery after referral by a GP.
The stark regional variation in treatment – or postcode lottery – was exposed following an investigation by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
It found that in some areas there were four times as many cataract operations as others, even though lack of treatment can leave sufferers disorientated, at risk of falls, depressed and isolated.
Clara Eaglen, of the RNIB, said: ‘Regional variation has created a postcode lottery which is simply unacceptable.
‘NHS “efficiency savings” achieved by cutting cataract operations are a false economy as denying treatment leaves patients at risk of depression, social isolation and fall-related hip fractures which are more costly to treat.’
It found that the number of second eye operations taking place in England had fallen by 5 per cent in two years – from 96,336 in 2009/10 to 91,959 in 2011/12.
Regional variations meant that, per 100,000 people, there were 1,147 operations in Fylde and Wyre, North Lancashire, but 267 in South Reading. And patients wait an average of 222 days for surgery in Heywood, Middleton and Rochdale in Greater Manchester, but 44 days in Ipswich and South Suffolk.
More than half of over-65s suffer from cataracts, which are cloudy patches in the lens that make vision blurred or misty.
The condition is linked to smoking, poor diet or health conditions such as diabetes and can affect the ability to read, write, watch television and drive – and wash, dress or cook in severe cases.
However, sight can be restored by breaking up the cataract using ultrasound waves and replacing it with a new plastic lens – a simple hospital operation that normally lasts about 45 minutes.
Cataract removal is now the most common surgical procedure in Britain, with almost 400,000 carried out each year.
It costs the NHS £932 for the first eye, and £808 for the second eye.