Over half of PCTs restricting cataract surgery access

No improvement in access in last year

Restrictions on access to cataract surgery are in place at more than half of England’s Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), the results of a Freedom of Information (FoI) request reveal.

A request carried out by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) shows that 57% of PCTs have restrictions on eligibility for cataract surgery based on visual acuity thresholds.

Of these, 70% have a ‘very restrictive’ policy with little or no leeway for patients who fall outside the threshold.

The RNIB brands these restrictions “arbitrary” and says they fail to take account of the debilitating impact cataracts have on an individual’s everyday life.

The organisation says that no improvements in access have been made since it made a similar FoI request a year ago.

The research also shows regional variations exists between PCTs’ access policies. For example, patients in the North East can have surgery as soon as the cataract starts to have an impact on their lives, while in the South East some patients need to have a visual acuity as low as the third line down on an eye chart before they are able to access surgery.

Clara Eaglen, eye health campaigns manager at the RNIB, said: "Everyone with a sight-threatening condition deserves early access to treatments that will delay or halt sight loss.

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

She added that denying people access to surgery will only increase waiting lists in the future, as once a cataract begins to affect a person’s everyday life, their sight will continue to deteriorate.

The findings were revealed at a Parliamentary reception held to launch RNIB's Save our Sight campaign, aimed at encouraging regular eye checks and promoting the importance of timely access to vital treatment.

It comes after an FoI request by the Patients Association revealed last month that there was a 4.6% fall in the number of routine operations carried out on the NHS in 2011 compared to 2010. Cataract procedures saw the biggest decline at 7.5%.

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