By Alexa Kaczka
Many people in the UK who require cataract surgery are being denied the operations due to strict regulations regarding eye tests, it has been claimed.
The move has attracted criticism from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and other health bodies, who say it is alarming that more than half of NHS trusts are currently refusing to refer people for surgery unless patients fail an increasingly stringent set of eye tests.
According to recent Freedom of Information requests lodged by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), some 57 per cent of England's 152 primary care trusts use eye test thresholds to determine who qualifies for surgery.
In the UK, more than 700,000 people are diagnosed with cataracts each month and around half of people over the age of 65 suffer from cataracts in one or both eyes.
In some areas of the south-east, a patient's sight often has to be so poor that they cannot read the third line on a Snellen chart - used to test people's eyesight.
Health minister Andrew Lansley has since expressed his displeasure at the limiting of access to cataract surgery through the use of eye tests alone.
Professor Harminder Dua, President of the RCO, which has voiced its concern along with the College of Optometrists, Optical Confederation and Local Optical Committee Support Unit, said using eye tests alone is not the way to go.
"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 explained.
"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."
Another issue that needs addressing is NHS primary care trusts only offering surgery to treat cataracts in one of a patient's eyes, even if both are affected, he concluded.
by Martin Burns