Determining access to cataract surgery on the basis of visual acuity alone has been deemed clinically unsound by a union of optical bodies.
Patients should be treated if cataract is adversely affecting their daily living, according to a joint statement by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, College of Optometrists, Optical Confederation and Local Optical Committee Support Unit.
Treatment should also depend on patients fully understanding the risks and benefits of surgery and being fit enough for surgery.
The alarm was raised after recent findings that patients in more than half of primary care trusts were being denied access to cataract surgery on the basis of visual acuity (News 01.06.12).
RCO professor Harminder Dua said: 'We urge commissioners, clinicians and patient groups to work together to implement this advice as a matter of urgency.
'The bodies issuing this statement support the Department of Health's strong stance against rationing access to cataract surgery through blanket visual acuity criteria, which ignore patients' individual circumstances, such as the impact on their ability to work, drive or look after themselves.'
Visual acuity is just one symptom of cataract, the statement added, and measuring it only part of an assessment of visual performance. Double vision and disabling glare from lights were noted among other serious symptoms.
The bodies also expressed concern that patients with cataracts in both eyes were being told their trust would treat only one, despite substantial evidence in favour of treating both. They said unless both eyes were treated, patients lost their ability to judge distances and became more likely to suffer accidents.
'Using visual acuity thresholds to impose limits on cataract surgery is economically counterproductive when it leads to higher health and social care costs because patients' vision deteriorates,' Dua added.