Couple Faced Choosing Which One Of Them Should Go Blind

A health trust has saved a couple from taking the agonising decision of which one of them should go blind. It agreed yesterday agreed to fund treatment for one of the pensioners following claims that the availability of sight-saving drugs on the NHS was a postcode lottery.

Olive Roberts, 79, and her husband of 57 years, Ronald, 81, both have wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common cause of blindness in Britain. They were told that they needed urgent treatment that could save their sight. However, if they wanted the treatment quickly, they said they were also told they would have to pay for it privately, even though the drugs were licensed for use on the NHS.

The couple said the drug treatment they needed would cost each of them £600 a month, over a period of up to two years. They could not afford two treatments, so they agreed that Mrs Roberts should have the drugs because her sight was deteriorating faster.

The couple, from Malmesbury, Wilts, applied to the PCT for funding two months ago, and the Royal National Institute for the Blind campaigned on their behalf. Last night, the Kennet and North Wiltshire PCT said in a statement that it had met yesterday to discuss the case and it had agreed to fund Mrs Roberts’s treatment as soon as possible. Mr Roberts required a further test before it could be decided what was the most appropriate treatment for his condition.

Mr Roberts, a retired civil servant who served with the RAF and the Royal Navy during the Second World War, said earlier that it was a very difficult choice to decide which should have the private treatment. “There aren’t really the words to sum up our situation,” he said. “Because Olive was losing her sight so quickly, we decided that she needed the treatment first.”

On being told last night that his wife would be treated on the NHS, he said: “What wonderful news. I’ve got a smile on my face for the first time in ages. This means life again for us. We are not going to be paupers. We’ll be celebrating tonight. Thank God for the RNIB.”

The RNIB welcomed the news. Steve Winyard, its head of campaigns, said: “People can lose their sight to wet AMD in as little as three months – treatment is urgent and must start immediately following diagnosis. While this is good news for Mrs Roberts, this is one victory for one individual. Around the country, 80 per cent of PCTs are still not funding sight-saving treatment, and each day, 50 people with wet AMD in England risk losing their sight to this condition because they can’t access treatments on the NHS.”

Mrs Roberts has wet AMD in her left eye and Mr Roberts has the condition in his right eye. It stems from blood vessels growing behind the retina, causing bleeding and scarring.

Tom Bremridge, the chief executive of the Macular Disease Society, said: “Where PCTs have looked carefully at drugs, analysed the data, and looked at other treatments available, they have, in most cases, authorised treatment. But it is a postcode lottery. That is grossly unfair.”