Monday, 22 July 2019

Britain is no country for cataract-afflicted, 'poor' old men, forced to wait for the restoration of their vision

The formation of cataracts in the eyes is a condition which mostly affects old men and women when their lenses develop cloudy patches which,over time, usually become bigger causing blurry, misty vision and eventually, if left untreated, blindness.

In the case of old people with cataracts which aren't too bad, stronger glasses and brighter reading lights may help for a while, but they get worse over time and eventually they need surgery to remove and replace the affected lens and surgery is the only treatment that's proven to be effective for cataracts.

They have entered a world where their eyesight is blurred or misty, they find lights too bright or glaring, find it harder to see in low light and one where colours look faded and if they wear glasses. They may feel their lenses are dirty and need cleaning, even when they don't. In addition to this, the chances are that they have been forced to give up driving their car.

Official figures produced by NHS Digital, have now revealed that those who live in England who cannot afford private medical insurance are forced to wait almost six months for operations on the National Health Service to remove cataracts. That's being condemned to live in a twilight world because they are unable to cough up the cost of £2,000 - £4,000 they would have to pay for each lens in 'Private Medicine.'

Old cataract patients in Herefordshire are the worse off, facing average delays of 168 days, those in Great Yarmouth and Waveney in Norfolk are the second worst in England at 163 days, while they now average 154 days in North Lincolnshire.

Helen Lee, Policy Manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People said : “It is shocking that patients are waiting months and on too many occasions being denied cataract surgery. It often results in people losing their independence and becoming depressed as they can no longer do ordinary things like drive, go out at night and see bus numbers. People are more at risk of falls, which can lead to hip fractures and hospitalisation, which can be devastating.”

She accused many local National Health Service bodies of defying guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which says that people with a cataract should be referred to have it removed promptly if it is giving them cloudy vision and affecting their quality of life. However, many cash-strapped CCGs are refusing to treat patients whose eyesight has not deteriorated 'enough' in their judgement.

One patient had a cataract removed in Leeds from his left eye on 9 July after waiting close to the NHS’s 18-week supposed 'maximum wait' for non-urgent care. He said : “It’s just been frustration after frustration for me, waiting for the surgery that I needed. I was on the point of going private because I was so frustrated at waiting so long to get it removed on the NHS.” He fell while waiting for the operation, injuring his hip. He also had to give up driving after his eyesight deteriorated so much that he posed a risk behind the wheel saying : "My car is my lifeline because I’m on my own.” 

The old men and women in England in the future who may develop cataracts can "take heart" and "worry not" because a Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson has said :

“We expect all patients to have timely access to cataract surgery. Through our NHS long-term plan, we will boost the number of planned procedures and reduce waiting lists.”

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