Cataract patients being wrongly denied eye surgery
Thousands of patients struggling to drive and even read are wrongly being denied sight-saving surgery, according to eye health professionals.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and other health bodies say it is alarming that more than half of NHS trusts are denying patients cataract operations unless they fail stringent eye tests.
They say the threshold means that many people whose quality of life is severely damaged by the condition are still not eligible for the operations because of cost-cutting measures.
Some 720,000 people are diagnosed with cataracts each month, leaving them with blurred vision.
It is estimated that about half of people over the age of 65 suffer from cataracts in one or both eyes.
But Freedom of Information requests lodged by the Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) found 57 per cent of England’s 152 primary care trusts used eye test thresholds to determine who qualified for surgery.
In some parts of the south east, a patient’s sight has to be so bad that they struggle to read the third line down on a standard eye chart – a line which has very large letters.
It is also recognised that the condition can cause other problems such as double vision or disabling glare from lights, even though their eye test results will be relatively unaffected.
The urgent warning statement was issued jointly by the Royal College, the College of Optometrists, Optical Confederation and Local Optical Committee Support Unit.
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.
Professor Harminder Dua, President of The RCO, strongly advised that it is clinically unsound to determine access to cataract surgery on the basis of eye tests or “visual acuity” alone.
He said that the patients should be offered the surgery of the condition could be shown to affect their daily lives, such as the impact on their ability to work, drive or look after themselves.
“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 said in the statement.
“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.”
He said there was also concern that when a sufferer had both eyes affected by cataracts that NHS primary care trust s (PCTs) were only offering surgery to treat one.
The RNIB undertook the same survey last year and found similar results, leading to it conclude there had been “no improvement” in the situation, “despite strong evidence that delaying surgery ends up costing not just the patient but the health service as a whole”.
They’ve sentenced me to blindness: Army wife loses NHS appeal for eye injections
A soldier’s wife says she has been condemned to losing her sight after local health chiefs denied her access to eye injections available elsewhere on the NHS.
Dawn Thomas had hoped that an appeal – backed by a national charity might sway managers to allow her drug that can save her sight from a rare disease. But South Staffordshire Primary Care Trust confirmed its initial decision to deny the 44-year-old the medication.
The treatment for her rare degenerative eye condition would involve several injections which can cost up to £800 each.
She now fears having to give up her job and driving – and that her family may even be forced to sell its house to fund private treatment.
The secretary, from Branston, Staffordshire, said: ‘I’m upset and want to cry. ‘I just feel all hope has gone.The health chiefs are heartless. ‘They’ve got a job to do and I’m only a name on a piece of paper as far as they are concerned.
A spokesman for the Royal National Institute for the Blind said: ‘The PCT’s decision to once again refuse to fund Dawn’s treatment and save her remaining sight will have a devastating impact on her life. ‘The refusal to fund an effective and proven treatment is a cruel decision that is likely to mean Dawn has to stop working.
‘There will be a massive impact on her quality of life and a big long term cost to the taxpayer. We strongly urge the PCT to rethink its decision.
‘If there’s an approved treatment available which will save a person’s sight then it should be given to the patient. It’s vital that people diagnosed with sight threatening conditions have the opportunity to receive proven and timely treatments.’
The PCT has denied funding to treat Mrs Thomas’s pseudoxanthoma elasticum (PXE), a hereditary condition in which the elastic fibres that normally occur in the skin, eyes and cardiovascular system become calcified.
Although diagnosed with the condition when she was 21, it has given her increasing cause for concern in the past 12 months and she has now lost vision in her left eye and is having trouble with her right.
Desperate for help, Mrs Thomas, supported by a consultant at the Royal Derby Hospital, made an initial funding bid to the PCT which was turned down. The PCT has since reviewed her case after receiving new information from the Macular Disease Society but has again thrown it out, confirming her case was not exceptional enough.
With evidence suggesting PXE patients elsewhere in England are receiving treatment, Mrs Thomas appears to be the victim of a ‘postcode lottery’.
Mrs Thomas has asked Burton MP Andrew Griffiths for help and plans to consult an RNIB solicitor and the Royal British Legion.
‘I have to try and remain strong and hopeful and fight it,’ she said. ‘I am going to do everything I can to save my sight.’
Rid schools of anti-risk culture, says British PM
Bringing back competitive sports for primary pupils will help rid schools of their “bureaucratic and anti-risk” culture, David Cameron has said.
Speaking on the last day of the Olympic Games, Mr Cameron said the entire ethos of British schools must change to show pupils that “winning and losing is an important part of growing up”.
Earlier this week, Mr Cameron promised to put competitive sports such as netball and football into the national curriculum for primary school children.
His pledge came after he backed the Daily Telegraph’s Keep the Flame Alive campaign to revive competitive games in schools and get more people volunteering.
Yesterday, Mr Cameron revealed that two of his own children attend a state school without any green space to play on and called on schools to recognise the value of competing.
“We are saying out with the bureaucratic, anti-risk culture which has led to a death of competitive sport in too many schools and in with the belief that competition is healthy, that winning and losing is an important part of growing up,” he said.
The Prime Minister is now under pressure to make competitive sport compulsory in every school, as free schools and academies do not have to stick to the national curriculum He yesterday insisted that greater competition to attract pupils and their parents will mean these exempt schools will voluntarily want to offer as much sport as possible.
“Competition, choice and diversity will help to drive up provision, but at the heart of the national curriculum should be a few simple ideas about what we mean when we talk about sport in our schools,” he said.
Mr Cameron is now supporting a new push to get more volunteers for local sports clubs, which starts this weekend with the national Join In campaign Sports enthusiasts, including Olympic volunteers will be encourage to sign up to help out at local sports facilities for good. Mr Cameron said local clubs are the most important place for children to develop their sporting prowess, as he unveiled plans to make sure Britain builds on its best haul of Olympic medals for more than a century.
He promised to keep funding for sports at its current level for at least four years and said there is “no expectation” this will change for the rest of the decade.
British athletes will get at least £125 million per year to help repeat the rush of Olympic medals won by Team GB.
Politicians are also trying to harness the positive national mood created by the games to help dispel criticism that Britain is “down and out” during the recession.
Speaking from Downing Street, Mr Cameron said the games showed the “best of Britain” and proved that its “time has come”.
“Over the last couple of weeks we have looked in the mirror and we like what we have seen as a country,” he added, saying the public had proved itself “the greatest member of Team GB”.
Businesses can take heart from the fact that “Britain delivered”, he said. The Prime Minister even claimed the hard work of athletes could show people how to get the economy out of recession.
“We do face a very tough economic situation and I do not belittle that at all,” he said.
“But in a way, what these Games show is that if you work hard enough at something, if you plan something, if you are passionate enough about something, you can turn things around.”
His words echoed those of Sir Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, who said bankers should learn from Olympic athletes that “motivation is more than mere money”.
Skegness seaside resort: Health and safety officials ban Jolly Fisherman statue’s ‘dangerous’ arms…
Given the excesses of Britain’s “no win no fee” lawyers and the unpredictable British courts, it’s actually a reasonably well-founded precaution
He has been an icon of the British seaside for more than a century – but now Skegness’s carefree Jolly Fisherman has run into a storm of trouble with health-and-safety officials.
The gambolling seaman famously appeared with arms joyously outstretched on classic posters above the slogan: ‘Skegness is SO bracing.’ But now council officials have decreed that a new statue of the much-loved character must have his arms reined in.
‘Unfortunately, we can’t have the fisherman with his arms outstretched because there is an issue with health and safety,’ explained Lincolnshire County Council’s ward member for Skegness, Ken Miller.
‘People would try to clamber all over it and if someone fell off or if one of the statue’s arms broke, then we would be the ones to take the blame and that is too big a risk.’
And to complete their health and safety vigilance, the council has removed the Jolly Fisherman’s pipe, for fear it would encourage smoking.
The statue, due to be built next spring, will be located outside Skegness railway station as part of a £750,000 refurbishment.
But outraged locals say the county council’s design – depicting the stationary fisherman holding a beachball, with his other arm by his side patting a seal pup – looks more like a garden gnome than the iconic figure on posters fondly hung in thousands of homes.
‘When a photograph of the proposal was passed around at a council meeting, people were in hysterics laughing at how bad it is,’ said Skegness Civic Society chairman Steve Kirk. ‘The design looks horrific and does not resemble the fabled Jolly Fisherman at all. I have received more than 100 emails and comments about it from people who are desperate to have it changed. ‘The Jolly Fisherman is a symbol of the town and people are proud of it. But this image looks like a gargoyle and will become a laughing stock.’
And Skegness mayor Mark Anderson added: ‘The statue looks like a garden gnome. We are known for a being a jolly seaside town but we are being dictated to by health-and-safety rules. ‘The fisherman is an icon and we are mightily upset that he’s being changed in case some drunk idiot decides to hang from his arms and falls off or hurts themselves.
‘We have told the county council to go back to the drawing board. The town council holds copyright of the image so nothing will go ahead without our approval.’
But the county council remains unmoved. ‘Nowadays, people will sue at the drop of a hat and the council cannot afford to be fighting legal claims for negligence,’ said Mr Miller. ‘We are aware that some people are unhappy with its appearance so we may have to refine it but even then it will not have outstretched arms.’
Celebrated poster artist John Hassall drew the picture in 1908 after being commissioned by Great Northern Railways to promote travelling to Skegness by rail. He was paid 12 guineas for his work. In 2008, the Queen sent a letter to the resort to mark the 100th anniversary of the town’s mascot.
Mr Hassall’s original hangs in Skegness town hall and was formally given to the town by British Railways, along with the copyright, in 1966. Mr Hassall died in 1948, 80 years old and penniless.
The new statue has been commissioned by Lincolnshire County Council and funded jointly by the European Regional Development Fund, Network Rail’s National Stations Improvement Programme, East Midlands Trains and Lincolnshire County Council.