The Royal College of Optometrists (RCO) is leading opinion that more than half of NHS Trusts are denying patients cataract operations unless they fail stringent eye tests. The results is that thousands of patients are struggling to drive and even read, quality of life is severely damaged, and all – according to eye health professionals – in the name of cost-cutting.
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, which do not detect other problems associated with cataracts such as double vision or a disabling glare from lights. The pressure for increased access to this type of eye surgery is supported by many experts in the field, including Professor Harminder Dua, President of the RCO, who strongly advised that it is clinically unsound to determine access to cataract surgery on the basis of eye tests or ‘visual acuity’ alone.
To add salt to a very open wound, the RNIB has highlighted that there has been no improvement in the situation since last year despite strong evidence that delaying surgery ends up costing not just the patient but the health service as a whole.
In this time of economic difficulties, despite the need to reduce costs to the NHS, surely it is counterproductive to restrict access to cataract surgery that enables patients to continue to live independently. Ultimately this course of action will lead to higher health and social care costs as a patients’ vision continues to deteriorate.