Postcode lottery for elderly going blind

LORNA MARSH Hundreds of Norfolk pensioners being abandoned to go blind are victims of a postcode lottery it has been revealed as campaigners condemned the county's PCT for being one of the last to refuse free treatment.

LORNA MARSH

Hundreds of Norfolk pensioners being abandoned to go blind are victims of a postcode lottery it has been revealed as campaigners condemned the county's PCT for being one of the last to refuse free treatment.

The attack comes as the EDP discovered yet another tragic case of an elderly woman losing her eyesight after being failed by the health system she has helped fund for years.

Norfolk PCT is refusing to fund a simple set of injections that would save her sight and that of many others like her suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Yet if she lived in an estimated one in five PCT areas in England or anywhere in Scotland the 73-year-old, who did not want to be named as she is still coming to terms with her illness, would have a chance of receiving the treatment.

Instead she has been forced to take out hundreds of pounds in loans to start the injections and if Norfolk PCT sticks to its guns despite increasing pressure from MPs and campaigners the cost will run to thousands.

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For many there is no choice and they are abandoned to lose their sight forever. Sufferers go blind within months of diagnosis.

Her daughter said it was a disgrace that an NHS which funds tattoo removals does not give blanket help to elderly citizens losing such a vital faculty and that her mother, a former carer who was widowed four years ago, had paid her national insurance contributions her whole life.

Norfolk PCT's controversial decision not to provide the treatment has been slammed by the head of policy at the Royal National Institute of the Blind who said more and more trusts were beginning to offer free treatment.

Steve Winyard said that the treatment worked out as an inexpensive investment for trusts as they would not be then left to provide complex support for those who had lost their sight, adding that poor eyesight also leads to more accidents and stays in hospitals.

“It doesn't just stop the disease, it actually can help improve eyesight. The number of people needing the treatment would not be huge yet they would benefit greatly.”

He said the fact that Norfolk PCT bosses could offer no guarantee with their reassurance that there was “some hope” the injections would be made available during the financial year was “deeply worrying” given that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is issuing mandatory guidelines on AMD treatments in October, for which they should have made provision.

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