New bionic eye ops on the NHS

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Five local blind patients will be among the first in the country to receive revolutionary bionic eye implants funded by the NHS.

NHS England will provide funding for further testing of the Argus II, also known as the Bionic Eye, for 10 patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), an inherited disease that causes blindness.

Half of these procedures will take place at the Manchester Royal Eye Hospital (MREH) next year, with the other five at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London.

Surgeons at Manchester and Moorfields made history by delivering the world’s first trial of the Argus II bionic eye implants in RP. MREH surgeons also performed the first ever bionic eye implant on a patient with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in 2015.

NHS England will fund this through its Commissioning through Evaluation (CtE) scheme, designed to gather vital evidence for treatments that show significant promise for the future. NHS England will assess how the Bionic Eye helps patients function with everyday tasks.

Patients using the system, developed by American company Second Sight Medical Products, are given an implant into their retina and a camera mounted on a pair of glasses sends wireless signals direct to the nerves which control sight. The signals are then ‘decoded’ by the brain as flashes of light.

Grandfather-of-five from Lancashire, Keith Hayman, 68, was one of three people who had been fitted with the bionic eye at Manchester Eye Hospital by Professor Stanga during a trial for Retinitis Pigmentosa in 2009. He has been blind for 25 years having been diagnosed in his 20s while working as a butcher and was forced to give up work in 1981 when he was registered blind.

He said: “Having spent half my life in darkness, I can now tell when my grandchildren run towards me and make out lights twinkling on Christmas trees. When I used to go to the pub, I would be talking to a friend, who might have walked off and I couldn’t tell and kept talking to myself. This doesn’t happen anymore because I can tell when they have gone. These little things make all the difference to me.”