Visual impairment affects more than half of older people and I am not talking about the many people who need glasses to improve their eyesight. I am talking about the point where deteriorating vision begins to limit your daily life. In annual surveys I used to do of older residents in retirement housing, around 50% of people said they had problems with their sight which led to everyday difficulties with getting around, reading, watching television. Even more limiting are issues like preparing food; or not being able to read labels when shopping; and of course driving.
Visual impairement, along with hearing impairment, are the relatively simple medical conditions which, left unattended, can lead to loneliness and isolation. Then further down the ageing slippery slope to depression and pills, or falls and fractures.
That is why the findings of a recent report by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, are so worrying. The study of cataract surgery carried out in the NHS found that over half the Primary Care Trusts were restricting access to simple eye surgery because of their need to save money.
It is issues like this which so graphically demonstrate the NHS’s blatant disregard for the quality of life for older people. Preventative health care takes a back seat as soon as money is required to be saved. Yet by saving less than £1,000 on cataract correction on one eye, the same NHS acute hospital may later on have no option but to spend much more on a fractured hip of the same elderly person who has fallen as a result of their poor sight.
Cataract surgery is the most common operation carried out in the NHS with 400,000 being done each year. The RNIB study found that 53% of PCT’s are cutting back on these procedures.