Life-changing eye surgery for people suffering from cataracts is being rationed in Horsham, Mid Sussex and Crawley - despite health chiefs being told months ago that rationing must stop.
Patients are being denied surgery in defiance of official guidelines from the Department of Health - unless their eyesight is deemed sufficiently poor.
The Horsham, Mid Sussex and Crawley Clinical Commissioning Groups - which are responsible for paying for local health services - say they do not routinely fund cataract operations. Only those who score worst in tests are considered for surgery.
And that is despite official guidelines from NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, which told health authorities last October that it was ‘crucial that patients, who will benefit from cataract surgery, are able to access it, whether for their first eye or second eye operation.’
NICE added: “Any arbitrary use of visual thresholds for referral or surgery which restricts access, creates inequitable care and is not justified.”
It said cataract surgery was cost effective and could prevent people from suffering further health problems.
Meanwhile, the Royal National Institute for the Blind has also hit out at restrictions on operations. A spokesman said: “Cataract surgery is one of the most cost-effective surgical procedures carried out by the NHS and we believe patients should be able to access surgery as soon as they experience significant symptoms in line with new cataract commissioning guidelines.”
The denial of surgery to cataract patients locally is just one of a range of NHS treatments now being rationed in Horsham, Crawley and Mid Sussex.
Patients are being told that ‘minor’ operations - from investigative joint surgery, haemorrhoid removal, skin lesion treatment and treatment for varicose veins - are no longer being routinely funded by the NHS. There are also restrictions on a number of other conditions.
The commmissioning groups - which have been placed in ‘special measures’ by NHS England after being rated ‘inadequate’ because of massive overspend in their budgets - say they have “designated a number of procedures as low priority for NHS funding.”
They have previously said there is no ‘blanket ban’ and that individual funding requests can be made to the CCGs by patients’ GPs, whose practices are separately funded by the NHS.
The commissioning groups have been approached to comment on why they are not adhering to NICE guidelines on cataract surgery but have not yet responded.