Thousands of elderly people in Britain are left to go blind because of rationing of eye surgery in the National Health Service (NHS), a report revealed on Saturday (April 6).
The Times newspaper said a survey by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCO) found tens of thousands of elderly people are left struggling to see because of an NHS cost-cutting drive that relies on them dying before they can qualify for cataract surgery.
The survey has found that the NHS has ignored instructions to end cataract treatment rationing in defiance of official guidance two years ago.
The RCO said its survey has found 62 percent of eye units retain policies that require people’s vision to have deteriorated below a certain point before surgery is funded.
With more than 400,000 cataract operations carried out each year, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) concluded that there was no justification for policies that denied patients cataract removal surgery until they could barely see.
The RCO said that refusal to fund surgery was insulting and called into question the entire system through which the NHS approves treatments.
Ms Helen Lee of the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said: “Cataracts can have a dramatic impact on someone’s ability to lead a full and independent life, potentially stopping them from driving and increasing their chance of serious injury by falling. The NICE guidelines make it clear cataract surgery is highly cost-effective and should not be rationed. It is nonsensical for clinical commissioning groups to deny patients this crucial treatment.”
Ms Julie Wood, CEO of NHS Clinical Commissioners, which represents local funding bodies, defended the restrictions.
She told the Times: “NICE guidance is not mandatory and clinical commissioners must have the freedom to make clinically led decisions that are in the best interests of both individual patients and their wider local populations. The NHS does not have unlimited resources.”
Having just experienced cataract surgery myself, I was curious as to how common it was and what the waiting period entailed. While one is on the operating table, there is time for conversation. So I asked the surgeon how many of these procedures he’d done. He thought for a moment and said, “probably several thousand by now. I have two days of surgery in this suite, and one at another site. I like to keep busy so a good day is between six and twelve patients. And of course, I see my patients the next day in a follow-up visit.” The whole thing, including prep and post, takes a bit more than an hour, and I was given every single phone contact the doctor has; they don’t want complications. And, yes, it is relatively painless. [Keep in mind that I’m comparing it to chronic fibromyalgia so a bit of stinging when the B puts in the multitude of eye drops for two weeks – the sting recedes – is the most tedious part.] Now, ten hours post-op, I am using both eyes to tell you about it.
In my early years of motherhood, I had some experience of “socialized” medical care while my then-husband was in the military. The docs were grumpy – they had to serve six years back then because of the draft. I liked the corpsmen, though. Very nice fellows and responsive to the needs of a young family. The docs? Not so much. When one pediatrician found out I was breastfeeding he gestured toward my infant and harumphed, “So when he grows up to be neurotic, will you blame it on his toilet training?”
Many Indian tribes report the same dissatisfaction with their government medical care, as do our veterans. One of the first things tribes do with their casino-funded bank accounts is to procure private medical care for everyone. The veterans don’t have that luxury.
Maybe Britain could start a lottery for health care. Brits love to bet. Besides, it worked for the Irish for many years.
I found a free Kindle Margaret Thatcher autobiography on Amazon. Haven’t gotten to her views on medical care but she was a true Methodist believer in local planning so I have my suspicions where this is going.
By tne way, the British method of politics seems eminently sane, as least compared to ours…and compared to what Thailand does, per H. Numan’s delightful essays.