Sunday, 13 July 2008

Appeal over blindness drug: "It's morally wrong to let people go blind when there are treatments available"

Three pensioners are at London's high court today in a bid to force their primary care trust (PCT) to provide sight-saving treatment.

All three suffer wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) - the most common cause of sight loss in the UK - and want to be treated with anti-VEGF drugs, namely Lucentis.

This drug is available in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, but national guidelines for Lucentis provision in England have yet to be finalised and it is up to PCTs to decide whether to give the treatment.

As such in England about half of PCTs offer the drug for people with wet AMD.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) claims Warwickshire PCT, which has an 'exceptional cases' policy, has denied over 50 patients funding for Lucentis.

It is three of these patients who are at the high court today and tomorrow in a bid to force Warwick PCT to provide the drug.

Lawyers for Raymond Liggins, 76, from Nuneaton; Jean Middleton, 78, from Kingsbury; and Patricia Meadows, 65, from Stratford-upon-Avon, claim that Warwickshire PCT's exceptionality policy is unlawful in that it is effectively a blanket ban on funding anti-VEGF treatments.

Mr Liggins, 76, who cares for his wife Olive after she had a stroke, said he is afraid he will not be able to look after her if he loses his sight.

"It's morally wrong to let people go blind when there are treatments available," he said.

"Olive depends on me so how can I care for her if I go blind? If I lived with my son in Scotland I'd get my treatment free on the NHS. So why is Warwickshire PCT forcing me to fight for my sight?"

78-year-old Jean Middleton commented: "There's not much time left to save my sight and I know there are many more people in Warwickshire facing the same fate. The situation is desperate."

Their case is being backed by the RNIB. It hopes this case will force Warwickshire PCT to change its policy and treat the three pensioners and other patients in Warwickshire, before they go blind.

The charity also hopes the legal action will send a strong signal to other PCTs across the country that they should not wait for final guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, expected later this year, to save the sight of patients in their care.

RNIB's head of campaigns, Steve Winyard, said: "It's a national scandal that pensioners are being forced into such a vulnerable position by a postcode lottery."

A verdict on the case is expected next week.