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Wednesday, 28 November, 2001, 09:52 GMT
NHS delays 'causing blindness'
Blind woman and carer
Wet AMD affects 50,000 people in the UK
Thousands of people are losing their sight every year because they are not receiving prompt treatment on the NHS, according to eye charities.

They have said long waiting lists and a postcode lottery in eye healthcare mean people suffering from the treatable form of age-related macular degeneration, so-called wet AMD, were going blind - in many cases unnecessarily.

AMD is the leading cause of severe sight loss in adults aged over 50 and affects 500,000 people in the UK.

Some 90% of these cases are dry ADM which cannot be treated but 10% are wet ADM. Between 20% and 40% of patients with wet AMD can benefit from a treatment called photo-dynamic therapy (PDT).

However, just 11 hospitals offer the potentially sight-saving treatment which is routinely available elsewhere in Europe.

It is appalling that people may go blind because the treatment is only available in certain areas and in other areas waiting lists are too long

Steve Winyard, RNIB

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is currently investigating whether the treatment should be available throughout the UK on the NHS.

In the mean time, only patients who live near hospitals that offer the treatment can have it for free. Others are forced to pay for care themselves.

PDT involves giving patients injections of a new drug, Visudyne, which finds its way to the retina.

The drug has undergone three years of clinical trials and has been available in the UK since July last year.

'Waiting too long'

But a survey by the AMD Alliance, an umbrella group of eye charities, found that even patients who live near hospitals that offer PDT are going blind because they are waiting too long for treatment.

Patients with wet AMD can lose their sight within just three to five months of being diagnosed with the condition.

However, just a handful of hospitals are able to guarantee treatment within this timeframe.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind, a member of the alliance, said patients awaiting treatment at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, for instance, were at high risk of losing their sight.

A spokesman said: "Patients referred to Liverpool face a three-month waiting list, which means many may lose their sight while they wait."

Steve Winyard, head of public policy at the RNIB and a member of the AMD Alliance's board, added: "PDT is a vital sight-saving treatment. It is appalling that people may go blind because the treatment is only available in certain areas and in other areas waiting lists are too long.

"As many as 5,000 people's sight could be saved if PDT was available nationally. PDT is routinely available in Europe, it's time the UK caught up."

The Alliance has called on the treatment to be made available on the NHS to everyone who needs it.

The group has called on the government to ensure PDT is available on the NHS to everyone who needs it.

See also:

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