Veteran's NHS battle for eye treatment

A war veteran has been forced to spend more than £4,000 of his own money in a desperate battle not to go blind because the NHS will not pay for his treatment.

A war veteran has been forced to spend more than £4,000 of his own money in a desperate battle not to go blind, because the NHS will not pay for his treatment.

Jack Strange, who earned the British Empire Medal in the second world war and served with Norfolk police for 30 years, is being forced to raid his life savings to save his sight because health bosses are refusing to fund simple, effective drugs which can keep his eye condition at bay.

Mr Strange has spent the money in the past year in a bid to slow the progress of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition which leads to the loss of central vision and, if left untreated, can lead to total blindness.

The 85-year-old from North Walsham knows that at some stage his savings may run out, forcing him into the stark choice of either selling his home or going blind.

Approved drugs are available privately to those who can afford them – or if you live in Scotland, where they are available on the state.

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb, who is also the Lib Dem health spokesman, has taken up Mr Strange's case.

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Last night, Mr Lamb said: "If you have got the money, you get the treatment – it is as brutal as that. It is not an acceptable state of affairs when it comes to someone's sight."

Bosses at Norfolk Primary Care Trust said yesterday there was "some hope" that treatment for AMD in the form of one of three possible drugs could be made available in the county during the financial year, but there were no guarantees.

Mr Strange, who has the treatable "wet" form of AMD as opposed to the untreatable "dry" form, said yesterday: "Our savings will not last forever, so if I have to keep paying, then at some stage I will either have to sell the house or stop having the treatment.

"I have paid in since the NHS was started in 1948 and when you need them they don't want to know you. It is very frustrating."

Mr Strange, who worked on the anti-aircraft guns in the second world war and made his way up to the rank of inspector with Norfolk police after joining as the force's first ever cadet in the late 1930s, said the quality of care he had received from the medical teams both on the NHS and privately had been excellent and prompt.

His condition makes reading difficult and means he needs to wear dark glasses to go outside.

Mr Strange's case is one of many across the country, with the highest profile that of former Labour MP Alice Mahon who was involved in a legal battle earlier this year with her local PCT, Kirklees and Calderdale in West Yorkshire, over the same issue.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind has said almost 20,000 people in England and Wales could go blind during the next year without the relevant drugs.

Mr Lamb said: "We know these drugs work and we know they can have a dramatic effect

"PCTs are very reluctant to commit to any extra spend because of the pressure they are being put under by the government to address their deficits.

"From an individual point of view a person's quality of life changes dramatically if they lose some of their sight or go blind.

"And from a financial point of view it seems counter productive for these treatments not to be allowed – after all, people who lose their sight become much more expensive to care for."

Norfolk PCT's director of public health John Battersby said yesterday: "The more recent deliberations give some hope that treatment for AMD will be made available in Norfolk during the forthcoming financial year."