Eye Disease Sufferers ‘Going Blind In Cost Row Over Drugs’

Ulster sufferers of an eye disease are being left to go blind because of indecision among health chiefs on whether to fund new sight-saving drugs, two charities have warned. The grim warning was delivered ahead of a public meeting in Belfast to highlight concerns for those diagnosed from wet age-related macular degeneration.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Macular Disease Society were set to host the meeting this morning to call for ” immediate action from the Health Service in Northern Ireland to ensure patients get access to new sight saving treatments”.

The meeting comes just a week after concerns were raised by draft guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) which said Lucentis and Macugen should be restricted on the NHS. Nice’s preliminary guidance recommended Macugen should not be used on the NHS, while Lucentis should be restricted to about one in five patients.

Peter Torkington, from the Macular Disease Society, said funding decisions currently rest at a local level until the Nice guidelines are finalised. “Waiting for Nice decisions is not justifiable and patients should not be left to lose their sight,” he said.

Shane Logan, director of RNIB in Northern Ireland, said he was concerned that “patients across the country are experiencing great difficulty getting treated”. He added the charity was “astonished” by the disparity between Ulster and Scotland, where the drugs were approved.

“These drugs are cost-effective; it is much more expensive to support someone once they have lost their sight than to provide sight saving treatment.”

Dr Usha Chakravarthy, an eye specialist from Belfast’s Royal Victoria said: ” Clinical trials with one of these new treatments has shown that we can now stop the decline in almost 95% of newly diagnosed patients with wet AMD and four out of every 10 patients will experience a significant improvement? in their vision.”

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey was recently asked about the provision of the drugs. He said: ” Two new treatments for wet AMD – Macugen and Lucentis – are currently being appraised by Nice and the Institute is expected to publish its guidance in September.”