Twenty thousand people in England and Wales could go blind over the next year because they are to be denied a drug available to people in Scotland.

Macugen, a treatment for age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the commonest cause of blindness, was approved yesterday by the Scottish Medicines Consortium. But the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), which recommends treatments for use in England and Wales, is not expected to complete its appraisal until August 2007.

Although Nice recently introduced a fast-track process for approving essential drugs, it has not fast tracked Macugen.

Macular degeneration is caused by overgrowth of capillaries at the back of the eye which start to leak, obscuring the macula or central part of the retina.

The Royal National Institute for the Blind condemned the different approaches of England and Scotland. Steve Winyard, director of policy, said: "If I had AMD I would try to register with a GP in Scotland."

Macugen was licensed in the UK and Europe in January. It is given by injection directly into the eye at six-week intervals. Each injection, of which three are needed, costs £514. Mr Winyard said: "It would save the NHS money because the cost of supporting someone who is blind is greater than the cost of treatment."

Patients who had sought to obtain Macugen from their primary care trusts (PCTs) had been refused, he said. "We are hearing of blanket bans on Macugen by PCTs even though Andy Burnham, the Health minister, told the Commons that each case should be treated on its merits," Mr Winyard said.

Nice said Macugen had been referred for appraisal by the Department for Health, alongside Lucentis, another new drug for macular degeneration. "We have not been asked to look at Macugen separately and we cannot look at both of them until Lucentis gets a licence."