Cash-strapped NHS chiefs abandon plan to axe cataract operations

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Controversial plans to axe routine cataract surgery have been abandoned after an outcry from health campaigners.

Proposals to restrict access to  surgery for people who are obese, and to require smokers to quit before an operation, have also been watered down.

Greenwich clinical commissioning group had proposed to axe or ration 12 surgical procedures in a bid to save up to £500,000, including cataract removal — the most common  operation in the NHS.

But most of its money-saving ideas have been abandoned after concerns from the Royal National Institute of Blind People, Healthwatch Greenwich and Greenwich council. Hundreds of residents had also opposed the moves.

The CCG also backed away from restricting access to vasectomies but did make clear it would not fund the increased demand for “designer vaginas” on the NHS. However, labia refashioning will be allowed for cases of obstetric trauma or female genital mutilation. The group, which is  seeking a total of £22 million savings this financial year, consulted on whether smokers should be required to quit before GPs could refer them for non-emergency surgery.

It also asked whether people with a body mass index of 30 or above — those regarded as obese — should be required to lose weight before  surgery. After more than 750 responses, the CCG decided that smokers should merely be required to attend one smoking cessation clinic, while obese patients would not face restrictions on surgery but would be referred to weight management services. 

No changes will be made to the availability of cataract operations until the NHS’s rationing body NICE publishes new guidelines in  October. The decision shows the  difficulties that GPs face in restricting access to healthcare to ensure that scarce NHS funds are targeted on patients most in need.

RNIB eye health manager Helen Lee said: “We’re delighted the Greenwich CCG has decided not to limit access to cataract surgery. It is a highly  effective treatment that can restore a person’s sight.” Healthwatch Greenwich said it was pleased many threatened treatments would still be funded on a routine basis.

A CCG spokeswoman said:  “Routine surgical procedures will not be withheld from patients who need them until they have quit smoking. However, we will require GPs to appraise smokers of the benefits of quitting smoking. Surgical procedures should also not be withheld for patients who need them based on their BMI. ”

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