NHS cataract rationing is on the rise – with double the numbers of people losing their sight rejected for vital surgery in just two years.
Four in ten local health boards are continuing to screen patients’ vision before approving operations in defiance of official guidelines.
New rules drawn up in 2017 state medics should stop relying on sight tests before offering surgery.
Instead, they should give ops to any patient who feels their quality of life is affected.
An investigation by the British Medical Journal found almost 2,900 requests for cataract surgery were rejected last year.
It is up from 1,300 in 2016/17.
The analysis shows 22 per cent of requests for cataract surgery were screened last year, compared to just seven per cent two years earlier.
Charities said the rationing was “shocking”.
Mike Burdon, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists who helped draw up the 2017 National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines, warned rationing was a false economy.
He said: “There’s a cost to the patient and the cost to society from even minor visual loss.
“Cataract surgery comes out as probably the most cost effective thing in the NHS.”
Up to half of pensioners – 4.5million people in England – have some degree of cataract growth.
EYE OPS REFUSED
But the NHS performs 400,000 operations a year across the UK, with each procedure costing around £700 an eye.
The condition occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy with age, causing blurred sight and poor night vision.
Graham Jackson, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners, which represents local NHS boards, said surgery is not without risk.
He said screening “is a good way of defining which patients would best be served by (in this case) cataract removal.”
But medics warn a “pick and mix” approach to implementing the rules is preventing thousands of sick Brits from getting much-needed treatment.
Nicholas Wilson-Holt, consultant ophthalmologist at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS, said screening is “acting as a barrier and it’s not in the spirit of the NICE recommendations.”
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Commissioners should take the latest NICE guidelines into account, to ensure fair and consistent access to the best possible treatment for all cataract patients.”
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Eleanor Southwood, Chair of Royal National Institute of Blind People, said: “The evidence is clear that cataract surgery is a cost-effective and successful treatment.
“It’s shocking that access to this life-changing surgery is being unnecessarily restricted by so many CCGs [local health boards] in England.
“Denying people the cataract surgery they need is a false economy as people with cataracts can be at a greater risk of falls and isolation, resulting in costs to the public purse.”
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