Sight-saving surgery is being wrongly restricted due to cost-cutting measures, it has been claimed.

People with cataracts who struggle to drive or even read are being refused surgery due to an unduly high threshold, according to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and other health bodies.

More than half (57 per cent) of the 152 primary care trusts in England use eye test thresholds to determine whether a patient is eligible for surgery, it was revealed through Freedom of Information requests lodged by the Royal National Institute of Blind people.

In some parts of the south-east a patient has to have difficulty in reading the third line down on a standard eye chart - which has very large letters - in order to be granted surgery.

As a result, the royal college has joined forces with the College of Optometrists, Optical Confederation and Local Optical Committee Support Unit to issue an urgent warning statement about the situation.

Estimates suggest around half of people aged over 65 have cataracts in one or both eyes, with 720,000 people diagnosed with the condition each month.

Professor Harminder Dua, president of the RCO, said: “We understand the financial pressures the NHS faces but cataract surgery is a highly cost effective treatment that improves sight loss and preserves patients’ ability to live independent lives,” he said in the statement.

“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.”