Old folk go blind as NHS cuts costs

STEVE DOWNES Norfolk MPs last night joined forces to urge health chiefs to pay for a treatment that could stop hundreds of elderly people from going blind - as the EDP unearthed yet another heartbreaking case.

STEVE DOWNES

Norfolk MPs last night joined forces to urge health chiefs to pay for a treatment that could stop hundreds of elderly people from going blind - as the EDP unearthed yet another heartbreaking case.

War veterans David and Yvonne Roddis face the “devastating” prospect of going into a care home because she is registered blind - and her husband has now been diagnosed with the same condition.

Mr Roddis, 85, does everything for his wife of 55 years, but the NHS has refused to pay for a potentially sight-saving treatment that could keep the Norwich couple together in their own home.

Now they face a stark choice - find thousands of pounds for private treatment or wait for the clock to tick slowly towards Mr Roddis's inevitable blindness and the end of their independence.

The case is the fourth highlighted by the EDP since it first uncovered the scandal on Wednesday. Across England and Wales, 20,000 people are expected to go blind during the year without the relevant drugs, including hundreds in Norfolk.

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Last night, MPs and social services bosses said Norfolk PCT should fund the treatment - and said the relatively small cost of the drugs was dwarfed by the potential cost of providing long-term care for the people involved.

Chris Mowle, Norfolk County Council's cabinet member for adult social services, said: “It's another example of cost shunting, where adult social services is picking up the tab for care that should be given by the PCT.

“It's a national problem. The more the PCT can save to reduce its debt, the bigger the bill that's being passed onto adult social services.

“I believe the drug to save people's eyesight should be prescribed. Caring for somebody in their own home is £18 per hour. It will be a huge burden to adult social services if the PCT continues to cut its spending.”

Mid-Norfolk Tory MP Keith Simpson said: “This is something to get angry about. I know money's tight, but this is spending money to save eyesight and to save money in the long term.

“We are talking about a relatively small amount of money for such an important issue - a person's ability to see.”

He said he would be writing to Norfolk PCT to call for a change of heart, and putting a commons question to the Department of Health, asking what the situation was nationally.

Labour MP Charles Clarke, Mr and Mrs Roddis's local MP, said: “I'm certainly happy to take up their case. If they raise it with me, I would raise it with the minister concerned. There's a massive issue here about all NHS resources and what is and isn't funded.

“I'm very sympathetic to their case.”

North Norfolk Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb is also taking up the case, which he said was “an unacceptable state of affairs”.

He added: “It's the cruellest and craziest possible situation where we are destroying the quality of life for individuals and creating an additional burden on the state.”

Mrs Roddis, a Wren in the second world war, was registered blind from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2002, and relies totally on her husband for simple tasks.

Now her husband, whose time as a signalman in the Royal Navy during the war saw him forced to jump overboard in the Mediterranean after his convoy ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat, has been told he has the same condition.

If treated with Avastin, Mr Roddis's sight could be saved. But without it, he faces becoming blind in two to five years.

He has been told that Norfolk PCT will not pay for the treatment, and advised to go private - at a cost of £1,800 per go for three injections directly into his eyeball.

Mrs Roddis, 83, said: “It's absolutely shattering. It would be horrifying for us to not be able to stand on our own two feet. I couldn't live here without David, and if he loses his sight we would both have to go into a home.”

Mr Roddis said: “We're on pension credit. I have a very small private pension. It looks as though we'll have to use the cash in the bank.”

The refusal to pay for Avastin comes despite consultants at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital recommending its use for the condition - ahead of alternatives Lucentis and Macugen.

AMD is a common condition, particularly among older people. New blood vessels grow behind the retina, causing bleeding and scarring which can lead to sight loss.

Norfolk PCT bosses have said treatment for AMD may be available this financial year but there are no guarantees.

They said they were “still finalising” their plans, and added that there was “uncertainty” over which drug was the most cost-effective.

Earlier this week, the EDP reported how war hero Jack Strange, 85, from North Walsham, had been forced to spend more than £4,000 to fund his own treatment.

The following day, it was revealed that 84-year-old Sheila Peal, from Cringleford, and 96-year-old Philip Hemmings, from Brundall, were also spending thousands of pounds from their savings to stave off blindness.