Screening programmes to detect eye diseases early on would not only save sight but could also save billions of pounds each year, a report finds.
The study, by the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, estimated the cost of blindness runs to many billions of pounds each year.
This is made up not just of costs of healthcare, but also of social care, and lost productivity to industry.
Affects one in 50 people over 40
Total cost to state: £38bn a year
Lifetime cost to individual: up to £40,000
It is estimated there are around 920,000 blind and partially sighted people in England.
The report highlights conditions where early screening, detection and treatment would be beneficial.
For example, it is estimated the total cost of glaucoma is £38bn a year. Of this £3.6bn is made up health costs, and £34.5bn of indirect non-treatment costs.
People who present with advanced glaucoma are at substantial risk of blindness.
But the report estimates if 10% of glaucoma cases were picked up earlier through screening the government would save up to £1bn a year in non-treatment costs alone.
Similarly screening to reduced the prevalence of cataracts by 10% could save up to £4.3bn annually .
Robin Hutchinson, head of communications and campaigns for Guide Dogs, said: "We want to highlight to the government not only how they could save substantial amounts of money by investing in early intervention, but also could help save the sight of thousands of people.
Estimated 2.8 million UK sufferers
Total cost to state: £11bn a year
Lifetime cost to individual: up to £19,000
"The report indicates that the potential benefits of early screening and intervention for eye diseases are enormous and that there is an urgent need for further research to quantify the economic impact imposed on the government, patients and their families."
Ian Murdoch, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Moorfields Eye Hospital, London, said: "Beyond the humanitarian benefit of helping prevent or treat visual impairment, this report provides the financial justification to identify those who would benefit from treatment - and to give them the treatment."
Over 57,000 people in the UK receive a Disability Living Allowance due to blindness.
But research indicates that 88% of people with cataracts, 86% of people with age related macular degeneration (AMD) and 81% of people with suspected and definite cases of glaucoma are not in touch with eye care services.
A spokesman for the Department of Health said a raft of funding had been made available to treat eye conditions, including:
- £73m to provide faster access to cataract
- £27m to purchase digital cameras to screen for the early detection of diabetic eye disease
- £4m to pilot improvements for patients suffering from chronic eye disease and poor vision
In addition, a national group had been established involving the patients groups, the RNIB, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in modernising NHS services for benefit of patients and practitioners.