Today NICE has at last issued its final guidance on the treatment of Wet Eye Age Related Macular Degeneration (Wet AMD) on the NHS. However, why has it taken over two years for NICE to make this decision and therefore allow thousands of people in England and Wales to go blind unnecessarily? Around 24,000 people contract Wet AMD a year in this country and unless treated promptly, will result in blindness in as little as three months.
The question of finance has always been at the forefront of NICE’s decision making. However, by not providing the proven drug Lucentis on the NHS, it nor the Government has taken into account the millions of pounds spent on rehabilitation and care for Wet AMD sufferers who do go blind.
One of several constituents who contacted me was in her eighties and was going blind in both eyes from Wet AMD. She was the main carer of her 93 year old husband who had a number of serious ailments and could not manage without her. She was told that the NHS would not treat her and she would have to pay thousands of pounds to save her sight. If she had not paid and consequently went blind, the state would have to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds on social care for her and her husband. Not only was the government’s policy on treating wet AMD morally evil, it was also financially stupid.
This is typical of a Stalinist, centralised and nationalised system which is our National Health Service. Anti-VEGF drugs have been freely available in other European countries for some time. Perhaps this is why our health service has tumbled down the league tables to 17th out of 29 European countries, only beating the poorer eastern European states.
If this sad episode shows us anything, it is that the NHS must be radically reformed so that proven drugs are no longer denied to patients because of a slow and bureaucratic system which makes decisions based on finance rather than clinical need.
In my pamphlet ‘The NHS at 60′ I suggest that patients in this country, those who have paid in to the NHS through taxes all their lives, should have the right to go to an independent provider for a drug that has been proven elsewhere without the fear of having to pay privately.
We need to have more independence for clinicians, the removal of state controls, the increased use of independent health providers and more choice for patients. Only then would we have a comparable health service fit for the 21st Century.
Peter Bone MP is Member of Parliament for Wellingborough. He is a Member of the Health Committee and part of the Cornerstone Group of Conservative MPs.