'Pay for quicker eye ops' offer
NHS hospitals are offering patients the chance to pay for cataract operations and reduce waiting times, a report suggests.
Freedom of Information figures obtained by the Daily Mail from 78 hospital trusts in England show 41 allowed patients to self-fund the straightforward 45 minute operations, charging up to £2,700 per eye.
Charities have raised concerns about the practice, amid claims cataract operations were becoming "harder to access" on the health service.
The NHS offers surgery for cataracts, a clouding of the eye's lens causing impaired vision, once a person struggles to read or drive and more than 300,000 procedures are performed each year.
According to the paper, the figures showed hospitals offering paid-for operations typically charged between £700 and £1,000 per eye but Frimley Park Hospital in Surrey charged £2,552 and Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust in Kent billed patients £2,700.
One hospital, University Hospital Southampton, said patients could opt to pay for the surgery if they did not qualify for it on the NHS.
Clara Eaglen, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, told the Daily Mail: "It's shameful that people are being asked to consider funding their own treatment when they are entitled to it for free, and in a timely manner, on the NHS. We strongly believe that everyone who has a sight-threatening condition deserves early access to treatments."
Caroline Abrahams, of Age UK, told the paper: "In the last few years it has become harder to access cataract surgery as people are forced to wait for their sight to significantly deteriorate before getting help.
"It is extremely worrying if people whose sight is starting to fail feel the only way to get help quickly is to pay for it."
Data released by health analysis firm Dr Foster in 2013 suggested the number of cataract operations started dropping in 2009 - in 2008 there were 326,456 compared with 321,957 in 2012.
In details on University Hospital Southampton's website it said: "Our cataract choice service offers a new option, between the traditional private sector and the NHS, bringing private healthcare within the reach of many more people.
"Surgery will be offered much sooner than the usual NHS wait and we predict that the wait will come down even further as more people take advantage of this service.
"The price for this service is £1,400, with a significant proportion of the fee going back to support the Eye Unit."