Brighton and Hove health chiefs accused of rationing cataract operations

Posted On 17 Jul 2012 at 8:19 pm

A senior opposition politician has accused health chiefs in Sussex of rationing cataract operations for financial reasons.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised to investigate the claim which was made by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham in the House of Commons today (Tuesday 17 July).

NHS Sussex, which commissions and funds health care in Brighton and Hove, said later that there was no rationing of cataract operations and anyone who needed one would have one.

Mr Burnham, who was Health Secretary in the last Labour government, said: “The right honourable gentleman needs to listen carefully to what I am about to say.

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“Yesterday he promised action to stop the restricting of cataract operations for financial reasons, if given evidence.

“How about this example? NHS Sussex has imposed severe restrictions that contradict the department’s own guidance, ‘Action on Cataracts’.

“This has seen the number of operations in Sussex fall from 5,646 in 2010 to 4,215 in 2011.

“Does the Secretary of State consider that fair to older people and will he now take the action his department has promised?

Mr Lansley, a Conservative member of the coalition cabinet, said: “I have made it clear to the right honourable gentleman many times – as has the Minister of State, my right honourable friend the Member for Chelmsford (Simon Burns) – that it is not acceptable and we will not allow NHS commissioners to impose blanket bans.

“I will gladly take note of and investigate that example.

“But I have to say that the right honourable gentleman wrote to me with a document that purported to contain a series of examples from across the country, most of which turned out to be fictional.

“I shall respond in writing about NHS Sussex and put a copy in the library of the House.

“But, as I have made clear, we, unlike our predecessors, will not accept any blanket ban on treatment.

“Any treatment must be clinically determined in the interests of patients.”

Mr Burnham responded: “Well, the right honourable gentleman is accepting it.

“And he continues to dispute my evidence but what does he say to the president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, who said yesterday (Monday 16 July) of cataract restrictions: ‘They are arbitrary and are a response to financial pressures, not clinical needs’?

“The reason for the government’s denial is that the financial pressures are greater than they care to admit.”

NHS Sussex said: “We can assure our patients that anyone in Sussex who needs a cataract operation will receive the treatment they need.

“We recognise that treating cataracts effectively can have a significant impact on the quality of life of many elderly people and are committed to ensuring our patients receive the most appropriate care where and when they need it.”

Yesterday Mr Burnham had cited a joint survey by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.

They produced a report called “Don’t turn back the clock: Cataract surgery – the need for patient-centred care” using a survey of surgeons and a series of freedom of information requests.

They found that the number of cataract operations had risen broadly in line with the ageing population as might be expected.

But they said that the number of cataract operations in 2011 fell to 338,565 from 350,602 in 2010.

An annex to the RNIB report gave a breakdown of those numbers and suggested that health chiefs in Brighton and Hove had funded 1,566 cataract operations – 24 per cent fewer.

The report said that the NHS in Brighton and Hove was spending just over £1 million a year on cataract operations.

It added that the operations paid for themselves, not least by reducing the number of falls.

The two organisations urged health chiefs to decide on who could have cataract operations by following national guidelines developed with experts from the Royal College.


  1. Sandra Hawkins Reply

    Ive been using eye drops for cataracts as my local health service ran out of money to treat me and im not in the best of health…natural health ethos I cant thank enough.

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