Thousands of elderly left suffering by 'cruel and random' eye surgery rationing



22:43 GMT, 13 September 2012

Thousands of elderly people are having to put up with deteriorating sight because they are denied cataract surgery on the NHS by ‘cruel and random’ rationing, campaigners warn.

Some health trusts offer the procedure only to patients whose sight is so poor it has led to them having a fall, research has found.

Nearly half of health trusts ration operations, with many turning patients away unless they can no longer drive, read or recognise their friends.

Some elderly patients are only get the eye surgery they need once they have had a fall

Some elderly patients are only get the eye surgery they need once they have had a fall

Around a third of over-65s suffer from cataracts, cloudy patches that form over the lens of the eye, causing blurred vision. In many cases, as the condition worsens, the only option is to have surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one.

The procedure, which costs 930, is deemed to be one of the most effective in the NHS.

But researchers from Imperial College London have found 71 out of 151 Primary Care Trusts, which manage NHS budgets, had policies to restrict surgery.

The study was published in the Journal of Health Services Research and Policy, and reported by the GP newspaper.

Steve Winyard, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said: ‘It’s indefensible and is leaving a lot of older people struggling to lead independent lives.

‘People should not have to live with a reduced quality of life because PCTs are using arbitrary criteria to determine whether they get to keep their sight.’

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow health minister, said: ‘Ministers have lost their grip on NHS finances and as a result we are seeing cruel and random rationing in the NHS.’

Lead researcher Sophie Coronini-Cronberg, of Imperial College London, said some restrictions were necessary as not all patients would benefit from cataract surgery and some would not want it.

But some patients whose sight could be improved were being refused the procedure.