Cataract sufferers in Britain are often being forced to pay thousands for life-changing eye surgery despite the operation costing the NHS as little as £800.
And new figures reveal that the NHS performs fewer cataract procedures than the Czech Republic and Portugal – three in four UK hospitals are rationing the ops which can return people to full sight.
Caroline Abrahams, of the charity Age UK, said: “These low figures seem to confirm that a large number of older people are either not accessing cataract operations or having to go privately for treatment. Cataracts affect a third of people aged over 65 and can significantly undermine their ability to live a normal life, work, or drive at night.
“Good sight is so fundamental that to have it compromised for months at a time because of insufficient resources is dreadful.”
The figures come from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development which publishes regular updates on cataract procedures per 100,000 population.
Britain is 22nd out of 30 countries with just 731 operations per 100,000 in 2014. Portugal carried out 1,273 per 100,000, Slovenia 871 and Hungary 870.
And the figures show that even back in 2005 many countries were performing more cataract surgery than Britain does now.
The watchdog NICE is set to publish cataract guidance to try to address this rationing but this is not due until 2018.
The NICE guidance is expected to demand that patients are referred for surgery if their sight is severely affecting their quality of life and impairing work or hobbies. Eye specialists will be urged to take into account patients’ individual circumstances including other long-term illnesses.
Jeremy Hunt has also ordered NHS trusts to provide surgery to elderly patients ‘without delay’.
The Health Secretary said it was down to doctors or eye specialists to decide when patients needed the operations, not cost-cutting managers.
A Daily Mail investigation recently exposed how NHS hospitals are charging the elderly four times the standard price and encouraging them to pay privately to jump the queue.
An Inverness pensioner has also warned that lengthy waiting lists for cataract operations could leave scores of older people housebound. Bette McArdle, aged 80, was told she would have to wait 44 weeks for treatment on her eyes.
Mrs McArdle, due to her personal circumstances, eventually opted for private treatment on one eye, paid for by her family, to allow her to drive and lead an active life again. This was arranged and carried out within weeks and she is now waiting for another cataract operation, through the NHS, on her other eye.