TEN people with an inherited form of blindness will be fitted with bionic eyes paid for by the NHS.
NHS England is funding further testing of the Argus II, also known as the bionic eye.
The bionic eye, developed by American company Second Sight Medical Products, is a retinal implant which interprets images captured by a miniature video camera worn on a pair of glasses.
Five patients will undergo the surgery to tackle Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at Moorfields Eye Hospital, and five at Manchester Eye Hospital from 2017.
They will be monitored for a year afterwards to see how the implants improve their everyday lives.
Grandfather-of-five Keith Hayman, 68, was one of three people who were fitted with the bionic eye at Manchester Eye Hospital during a trial for RP.
Keith, from Lancashire, has been blind for 25 years, after being diagnosed in his 20s while working as a butcher, and was forced to give up work in 1981 when he was registered as blind.
Keith 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 tress.”
“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,” Keith said.
Dr Jonathan Fielden, Director of Specialised Commissioning and Deputy National Medical Director from NHS England, said: “This highly innovative NHS-funded procedure shows real promise and could change lives.”
Professor Paulo Stanga from Manchester Royal Eye Hospital, who performed Keith’s surgery, said he was delighted the pioneering research had provided evidence to support NHS England’s decision to fund the bionic eye for the first time for patients.
“It surpassed all of our expectations when we realised that one of the RP patients in Manchester using the bionic eye could identify large letters for the first time in his adult life,” Professor Stanga said.
Gregoire Cosendai, from Second Sight, said: “Argus II makes a real difference to blind people. It may be, for some patients, the difference between staying at home alone or being able to find your way outside.
“Now this treatment is to be offered free of charge to blind patients in the UK. This is a major victory for blind people in the UK who have supported us in our six-year mission to fund Argus II in England,” he said.
Photo caption: Professor Paulo Stanga and Keith Hayman. Supplied by NHS.