Health chiefs face 'rationing' claim

HEALTH chiefs were accused of “rationing” NHS care in north Essex last night after it emerged cataract patients would not be put on a waiting list unless their condition was serious enough.

By Roddy Ashworth

HEALTH chiefs were accused of “rationing” NHS care in north Essex last night after it emerged cataract patients would not be put on a waiting list unless their condition was serious enough.

A leaked memo has revealed the new policy is being implemented by the North East Essex Primary Care Trust - to ensure the worst sufferers do not suffer treatment delays and that the authority meet its budget.

But North Essex MP Bernard Jenkin said last night he believed the move “smacked of massaging the [waiting list] figures”.


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The new system of “affordable eye care” means people in the Colchester, Clacton and Harwich areas who suffer from cataracts will be graded on a points system depending how serious their condition is.

If under a certain level, they will not be placed on a waiting list but instead be told how to manage their condition.

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Health chiefs say the aim is that those who urgently need cataract surgery will not be held up in a queue by those whose condition is less serious.

But Mr Jenkin said: “This smacks of massaging the figures, and shows the waiting lists published are fiction.

“In the old days these patients would have been placed on a waiting list but now they won't show up on the statistics.

“With the present deficit crisis, the rationing will be getting worse and I expect there will be quite a few memos like this flying around in different branches of surgery.”

The PCT's director of strategic development and commissioning, Matt Bushell, defended the new system.

He said: “Patients who need cataract surgery will receive an operation within three months, which is in accordance with national guidelines.

“Patients are assessed as to those who need prompt access to surgery, those who can wait three months and those that do not need surgery. People with more advanced cataracts need an operation as soon as possible and this system means they will not be delayed.”

He said most people with early cataract conditions had little or no visual impairment, so did not require an operation.

“A cataract is when the lens of the eye develops and blemishes which stop it being transparent. Initially, these blemishes will be so small they will not interfere with vision so patients will not benefit from an operation and can avoid the risks associated with surgery,” Mr Bushell said.

He has said the new system would “ensure that the PCT operates within its means, as there are limited resources available for elective surgery - across the East of England PCTs are in overall financial deficit situation.”

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