Blair 'is consigning 2,800 to blindness'

Tony Blair was accused yesterday of failing to explain why the introduction of a new treatment for blindness had been delayed, resulting in up to 2,800 people losing their sight.

Michael Howard, the Tory leader, pressed the Prime Minister on the issue, citing figures showing there were 50 centres across the country able to provide the new treatment, called photodynamic therapy (PDT), to "many more patients".

Mr Howard said: "The truth is patients need this treatment to stop them going blind; the doctors want to treat them to stop them going blind; why won't you intervene to sort out this mess?"

But Mr Blair disputed the figures, provided by the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB). He said: "The advice we have is that there is not the available capacity to deal with people at the moment".

Health chiefs were given nine months, rather than the usual three, to introduce PDT treatment for the "wet" form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) after a decision in September by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, the drugs watchdog, to approve its use. AMD is the most common cause of blindness in the elderly and results from the overgrowth of capillaries in the retina. It affects 250,000 people in Britain but only 5,000 to 7,500 a year can benefit from PDT. The treatment, which uses a laser and a chemical to block capillaries, slows but doesn't cure the condition, and may have to be repeated. At a cost of £900 a time, the bill for treating 2,800 patients would be £2.5m.

Mr Blair said the additional six months allowed for the NHS to provide the treatment was necessary to build up capacity, and was not related to cost. He said: "This was not a matter of the Government refusing to act when the capacity was there; we have to build the capacity to treat the patients properly."

But Steve Winyard, RNIB's head of public policy, said: "The Government are dragging their feet and have absolutely no excuse in still not allowing PDT treatment to be made available on the NHS. There is no shortage of doctors who could provide treatment. On the contrary, we know of 50 centres around the country that can provide people with treatment who otherwise may go blind. The situation ... is a sham."

The RNIB said that, although many centres were willing and able to provide PDT, most primary care trusts had been unwilling to provide funding. The Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, it said, had the equipment and the staff but not the money.

Mr Blair told MPs yesterday: "We are aware of the RNIB making these claims but they are disputed, I am afraid, by those that actually have to implement this policy". A spokesman for the health department said that every district had been ordered to provide the treatment by July.

Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol
art'Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' followed hoax reports artist had been arrested and unveiled
News
Pistorius leaves Pretoria High Court to be taken to prison
news

Voices
Stephanie first after her public appearance as a woman at Rad Fest 2014
voices

Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004
music

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

News
news

Endangered species spotted in a creek in the Qinling mountains

Life and Style
tech

Company says data is only collected under 'temporary' identities that are discarded every 15 minutes

News
peopleJust weeks after he created dress for Alamuddin-Clooney wedding
Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Life and Style
health

Some experiencing postnatal depression don't realise there is a problem. What can be done?

Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
Sport
Adel Taraabt in action for QPR against West Ham earlier this month
footballQPR boss says midfielder is 'not fit to play football'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Geography Teacher

    £21000 - £31000 per annum: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Geography Teacher ? ...

    Cover Supervisor

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you an experienced Cover Super...

    Cover Supervisor

    £50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Randstad Education is looking to e...

    Science Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Science Teacher - Maternit...

    Day In a Page

    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Let's talk about loss

    We need to talk about loss

    Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

    Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
    Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

    'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

    If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
    James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

    Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
    Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

    Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

    Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
    Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

    Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

    Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
    How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

    How to dress with authority

    Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
    New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

    New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

    'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

    The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
    Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

    Tim Minchin interview

    For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
    Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

    Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
    Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

    Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

    Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album