Labour today confronted the Health Secretary with direct evidence of arbitrary restrictions on cataract operations – and forced him to commit to an investigation.
Andrew Lansley has spent weeks denying that older patients were being routinely denied vital cataract operations by the NHS in England because of cost considerations.
However, at Health Questions in the Commons today he was forced into a U-turn following a specific example from NHS Sussex and mounting evidence provided by respected bodies, such as the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Royal National Institute for Blind People.
Last month, Labour highlighted widespread restrictions of cataract operations in its NHS Check report based on FOI returns from PCTs in England and on reports that concerned members of the public had written in with. GP Magazine has conducted its own survey and found restrictions in place in two thirds of PCTs.
Ministers had promised to act to remove restrictions if evidence was presented, but have previously denied that it had existed.
Today the Government was told of restrictions in place in NHS Sussex – directly contradicting existing Department of Health guidance set out in the document ‘Action on Cataracts’. NHS Sussex are restricting cataract surgery on levels of visual impairment alone, without taking into account wider lifestyle factors such as ability to drive, work and live independently.
Following Health Questions, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has written to Andrew Lansley asking for a wider investigation into similarly arbitrary restrictions in the following PCT areas:
All ten have experienced significant drops in the number of treatment performed, as a result of severe restrictions that contradict Department of Health guidance in the same manner as NHS Sussex.
This week Ministers have appeared increasingly isolated in attempting to deny the reality of rationing by cost across large parts of the NHS. Earlier this week, the President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Professor Harminder Dua, said of restrictions on cataract operations:
“They are arbitrary and are a response to financial pressures, not clinical needs”.
Department of Health ‘hospital episode statistics’ (HES) show a sudden fall in the number of cataract treatments performed in England – from 350,602 in 2010 to 338,565 in 2011.
Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, said:
“Last month, Labour revealed random rationing of cataract operations across the NHS and a postcode lottery running riot. After weeks of denials, Ministers have been finally forced to investigate after being confronted in the House with direct evidence of unfair and arbitrary restrictions.
“David Cameron promised not to cut the NHS, but official figures show he has cut it for two years running. This has led to crude rationing decisions, unsupported by the clinical evidence, that are having a direct impact on older peoples’ ability to cope.
“Older people shouldn’t be made to pay with their independence and quality of life because of David Cameron’s broken promises. It is the falsest of all economies if the only result is more falls and accidents and loss of independence meaning more pressure on carers and more support at home.
“Ministers have had long enough to sort this out. Older people should not have to wait another day for them to act on their promises.”