NHS Won’t Pay For Drug That Could Save OAP From Going Blind

A great-grandmother faces blindness because the NHS will not pay for a sight-saving drug. Lillian Driscoll has already spent her savings paying for a series of injections, but she may need more treatment to prevent her eyesight deteriorating further.

The 85-year-old, from Newport, Gwent, is one of hundreds of people in Wales denied NHS funding for the newest drugs to treat wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) is due to issue guidance on the funding of the drugs Macugen and Lucientus in September – Scotland approved the use of Macugen last year. But until then, there is no statutory duty for local health boards to fund the injections, which cost £2,000 each.

It is thought that only one person in Wales has received funding from their local health board. The lack of cash for these new sight-saving treatments comes as it emerged that the All Wales Medicine Strategy Group has decided not to authorise the kidney cancer drug Nexavar for use on the NHS.

Mrs Driscoll said, “If I lose my sight, I’m useless – you can’t really put a price on your sight. I would rather be dead than have to sit with my hands in my lap.” Mrs Driscoll has wet AMD in both of her eyes – she has had numerous laser treatments but that has failed to stop the condition, which can progress very rapidly. She also suffers from tinnitus.

She was told by her ophthalmologist that she was suitable for the new generation of AMD treatments but in the absence of NHS funding she has paid for a course of four injections at the Bristol Eye Hospital herself, using the money she had saved for her funeral.

Mrs Driscoll will learn in six weeks’ time whether she needs another injection, although she cannot afford to pay for it. She said, “I cannot afford to pay £2,000 for each injection and I am not going to ask my children to pay for it.”

Mrs Driscoll’s daughter Lynette Huckle, 59, who works in a day community centre and lives in Newport, said, “The prospect of not being able to see and having noise in her head from tinnitus will be like a serving a life sentence for my mother.”

Wet AMD is a very aggressive eye condition that quickly leads to the loss of most useful vision, sometimes in as little as three months. Around 50% of registrations of blind and partially sighted people each year are attributable to wet AMD.

RNIB Cymru and the AMD Alliance UK has estimated that 1,000 people a year in Wales are losing their sight due to wet AMD.

Macugen and Lucientus are a new generation of drug treatments, which target a protein that helps the formation of new blood vessels in the eye, and involve an injection directly into the eye. In clinical trials it was found Macugen reduced vision loss in 70% of patients.

Ruth Marks, director of RNIB Cymru, said, “We only know of one person in Wales where the LHB has agreed to provide funding for the licensed treatment, even though these treatments can prevent sight loss and in some cases restore sight.

“Health officials should consider that they can save money by funding these treatments. The cost to the state of supporting someone with sight loss far outweighs the cost of treatment. We have a real chance now to turn wet AMD, which devastates so many lives, into a largely treatable condition. But only if it is detected and treated promptly.”