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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Diabetic macular oedema sufferers refused sight-saving drug on NHS

By Kimmy Foreshaw

At least 50,000 people in the UK are affected by a condition known as diabetic macular oedema, in which fluid leaks from the small blood vessels in the eye and collects in the central part of the retina at the rear of the eye (known as the macular area). This can lead to serious visual impairment.

Sufferers may see straight lines as wavy, their central vision may become blurred, or they may become more sensitive to light. Their sight can deteriorate to an extent where basic tasks like reading, working and driving cannot be performed.

But the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has decided that the drug is too expensive to offer on the NHS in England and Wales, even though they already recommend Lucentis to the NHS for another condition known as wet age-related macular degeneration.

Charities intend to continue campaigning for the drug to be made available for people with diabetic macular oedema. The condition can cause straight lines to appear wavy and can lead to blurred central vision or increased photosensitivity. Visual impairment can reach a level where reading, working and driving become impossible.

The NHS traditionally treats diabetic macular oedema with laser surgery, but, whereas Lucentis improves vision, laser treatment simply prevents further deterioration.

The current cost of a Lucentis injection is 742.17. Four UK charities are urging the Government, however, to hammer out a Patient Access Scheme with Novartis (the firm that manufactures the drug) without delay in order to bring down the cost to the NHS.

Steve Winyard from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) expressed optimism about the chances of an agreement being reached, but warned that if this doesn't happen, patients diabetic macular oedema could 'needlessly' lose their sight.

A statement from Novartis indicated the company would keep working with NICE and the Department of Health to "ensure appropriate patients are able to receive this very important treatment."

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