A group of eye care charities and professional bodies have joined forces to warn that people will lose sight needlessly unless the new-look NHS prioritises eye care.
As part of Vision 2020 UK, the Macular Interest Group has written to senior officers in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) across England to highlight the rise in demand for the drug Lucentis, which is used to treat a number of retinal diseases, including macular oedema.
Until recently the sight saving drug was solely approved on the NHS to treat wet AMD. However, in the past few months, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved it for patients with macular oedema as a result of diabetic retinopathy. On April 11 it also approved Lucentis for those with macular oedema caused by retinal vein occlusion.
It’s estimated that these subsequent approvals will increase demand for Lucentis by at least 50%, with this rising to 70% to 80% in some areas.
NICE is also evaluating the use of a new drug called Eylea, which has been developed as an injection into the eye to treat the same range of diseases.
When NHS changes came into effect on April 1, the Government also made preventable sight loss a public health indicator.
While welcoming new access to care, the Macular Interest Group expresses fears that ‘unless CCGs commission enough services from hospital trusts, they will not be able to meet demand and patients will lose their sight unnecessarily.’
Urging CCGs to review their plans for intravitreal injection services to ensure they purchase enough supplies for their areas, the letter read: “Failure to commission or deliver the appropriate level of care will mean that people will lose their sight and place additional burden on other health and social care services.”
Chairman of the Macular Interest Group, Winfried Amoaku, said: “It is essential the CCGs invest in intravitreal injection services. We understand how stretched the NHS is but giving Lucentis less often than required is a waste of money and causes unnecessary sight loss.”
Recommendations from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists state that patients with wet AMD should wait no longer than two weeks for their first treatment, and be monitored every four weeks to determine if further treatment is required. However, research carried out by the Macular Society on behalf of Vision 2020 UK in 2012 reported that less than 50% of eye clinics were able to meet the waiting times recommended for the first treatment, while 80% failed to meet the four weekly follow ups advised.
Chief executive of the Macular Society, Helen Jackman, added: “Eye clinics around the country are under enormous pressure. Sight loss is devastating and all the more so when it is preventable. The Government has made preventable sight loss a priority and we ask CCGs to do the same.”