A CONTROVERSIAL sight-saving drug will be available free in Solihull from this week, following approval from health officials.
Lucentis (Ramibizumab) has already been used by some Primary Care Trusts (PCTs). Many however did not offer the effective eye injection for Wet Age Related Macular Degeneration (Wet AMD), due to high costs -£10,000 per course of treatment for each eye.
Wet AMD causes severe damage to the eyes' central vision, from fluid build-up under the retina and is the leading cause of blindness in the UK especially among the elderly.
Initially the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the body which assesses drugs for the NHS, said Lucentis should only be used when someone has gone blind in one eye.
But following a funding agreement with the drugs' producers, Novartis, all PCTs will now be able to offer the drug to patients who meet specified criteria.
Up to 17 patients in Solihull were refused treatment in the last year and were forced to seek private treatment or face going blind.
Now, they, along with thousands across the country, may now have their vision saved.
The Royal Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has led a two-and-a-half-year battle to make sight-saving treatments available on the NHS to all patients with Wet AMD.
Barbara McLaughlan, Campaigns Manager at RNIB, said: "NICE's guidance is great news for patients in Solihull with wet AMD. Solihull PCT had a very restrictive policy on funding Lucentis, which meant that many patients have been forced to choose between paying for private treatment and going blind.
"PCTs are normally given three months to implement NICE's guidance, but we are urging Solihull PCT to implement immediately so that they can save the sight of patients without further delay."
Jenni Ord, interim Chairman of Solihull NHS Care Trust said the Trust fully supported NICEs decision.
"Solihull NHS Care Trust welcomes the news that NICE has endorsed the drug Lucentis for use in the NHS.
"This new national guidance supports the approach that the Care Trust was already discussing with clinicians prior to its release.
"All patients referred for Lucentis by their clinician and who meet the clinical criteria outlined by NICE are eligible to receive treatment."