Older drivers forced off the road as NHS ‘rations cataract operations’

Older drivers are being forced off the road as the NHS rations cataract operations, campaigners warn

  • Campaigners say cost-cutting has resulted in the rationing of cataract treatment
  • They claim more drivers with cataracts are then being forced to stop driving
  • About three million people in the UK suffer from cataracts, most of them over 65
  • Charities warned that thousands of pensioners are losing their independence

Older drivers are being forced off the road by NHS cost-cutting that has resulted in the rationing of cataract treatment.

Campaigners say that penny-pinching has led to a growing number of elderly motorists having to surrender their driving licences because cataracts have made their eyesight too poor to drive, but not bad enough to qualify for surgery.

Charities last night warned that thousands of pensioners, particularly those living in rural areas, were losing their independence along with their licences because they rely on their cars to shop and socialise. 

About three million people in the UK suffer from cataracts, most of them over 65. The RAC said older drivers with cataracts were being stripped of their mobility and independence ‘for the want of a straightforward operation’ [File photo] 

The rationing of cataract treatment has become common, with more than half of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), which are responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care in local areas, deeming cataract surgery a ‘procedure of limited clinical value’.

The operation, which takes 30 to 60 minutes, involves the replacement of a defective natural lens in the eye with an artificial one. 

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, said: ‘Many older people rely on their car to get to essential services and to remain connected with their local community. This risks distress and isolation.’

Nick Freeman, a lawyer specialising in motoring matters, warned that unless such drivers could afford the £3,000 to £4,000 cost of private cataract surgery, they faced little choice but to surrender their licence. 

‘Safe and law-abiding drivers are being attacked in a pincer movement,’ he said. ‘On the one hand, they are obliged to inform the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency – as is their doctor or health care provider – if cataracts affect their vision. On the other, access to corrective surgery is being thwarted by the Government. It’s an utter disgrace.’

The RAC said older drivers with cataracts were being stripped of their mobility and independence ‘for the want of a straightforward operation’. 

Charities last night warned that thousands of pensioners, particularly those living in rural areas, were losing their independence along with their licences because they rely on their cars to shop and socialise [File photo]

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information rules by the Medical Technology Group, a coalition of patient organisations, research charities and manufacturers, show 104 of 195 CCGs in England say cataract surgery has limited clinical value.

About three million people in the UK suffer from cataracts, most of them over 65. Around 400,000 operations are performed annually in England at a cost to the NHS of between £700 and £1,400 each.

NHS England said the decision to restrict cataract procedures lay with individual CCGs.

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