After launching my campaign for government regulation in January 2012, supported by MP John McDonnell, I have spent four years fighting to meet with the health minister - Simon Burns in 2012, Daniel Poulter 2012-14, Ben Gummer 2015-16.
The correspondence I have in my possession from the above named ministers - and others incl Jeremy Hunt - reveals their overt reluctance to address this scandal.
I believe that their reason (one of them) for avoiding me is because, once meeting with me and hearing the shocking truths in person, they will no longer be able to claim that the CQC, GMC, and RCOphth have everything under control.
I was therefore thrilled to receive a call from my MP's parliamentary office this morning, followed by a confirmation email, to say that, 'we have set up a meeting between yourself, Theresa (Villiers), Ben Gummer and the Department of Health on Wednesday 29th June 2016.’
Huge thanks to Theresa, as it took four letters to Gummer and subsequent phone calls to his office for her to finally persuade him to meet with me! This was in addition to John McDonnell pressuring him...
I trust that Ben Gummer won't find it so easy to cancel a meeting with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as he might be tempted to do with me!
In early 2015 many damaged patients wrote accounts of how their lives had been affected for me to give to Dan Poulter in person - our meetings repeatedly postponed until he resigned as health minister.
I will be giving these to Ben Gummer instead, and invite everyone else to write their own account for me to add to the file (no matter where you had surgery). It would help if you also copy this to your own MP.
A belated thanks for your letter dated 23 February, and copy of Ben Gummer’s letter dated 10 March.
I am aware that after the general election Dan Poulter advised his successor that he should meet with me asap, yet the health minister has ignored me. His letter to you, in my opinion, is a continued and deliberate avoidance of this major scandal.
It seems to be that as long as no-one talks to me they can claim ignorance of the major problems suffered by tens of thousands of damaged patients.
Please listen to this brief exchange between Richard Harrington, Ben Gummer and John McDonnell in July 2015:
It should be considered that the industry’s endless supply of damaged patients is costing the NHS untold £millions in aftercare and repair. Lens explant operations are now being performed by NHS surgeons as the only option to correct problematic lens exchange surgery provided by Optical Express and other high street providers. NB: A bilateral explant costs £11k at a private clinic. Not forgetting the cost in benefits for the thousands left unable to work as a result of damaged vision.
In his letter to you Ben Gummer wrote that a laser eye surgery provider was included in the first pilot inspections of single specialty services and non-hospital acute services between April and June 2015, and that the report is available on the CQC website by searching ‘laser eye clinics’. I am unable to find this information, as were CQC customer services. I have written to the CQC asking for a link.
Regardless of which, the problems within this industry go far beyond the scope of the CQC and can only be limited by government regulation.
I met with John McDonnell yesterday who advised me to write and ask you to press for Ben Gummer to meet with me asap. John is also writing to you himself...'
Theresa Villiers is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and my local MP.
In February 2013 I contacted Theresa explaining my campaign etc… and she replied that she would write to the Minister at the Dept of Health and ask for "an update on the Government’s position on this issue”.
In March 2013 her secretary forwarded a copy of the totally worthless response Theresa received from the Rt Hon Earl Howe. He simply referred to Bruce Keogh’s report on the Cosmetic surgery industry and said that, although he accepted that laser eye surgery is not cosmetic, Professor Keogh believed that the recommendations would have a, "bearing on the laser eye surgery industry" (the major problems with lens exchange had yet to surface).
In case anyone missed it, the Government’s response to Keogh’s report was to set up lots of committees and sub committees that made lots and lots of recommendations - barely denting the Cosmetic surgery industry more than two years later! www.gov.uk/…/Government_response_to_the_review_of_t…
As I’d always argued, there was no chance that Keogh’s report would affect the refractive eye surgery industry - not least because, as even Earl Howe accepted, it is NOT a cosmetic procedure, and in my opinion far more serious as it risks our precious and priceless eyesight!!
Months before Bad Eye Day lobby I had invited Theresa Villiers to attend and was pleasantly surprised when she agreed. However, the day before the lobby Theresa called me to apologise for the fact that she was not going to be able to attend after all. She asked to meet with me soon and sent this message, which I read at BED:
“I am sorry that cross party talks in Northern Ireland mean I cannot be with you today. As Sasha’s local MP, I welcome the work she has done to campaign for stronger regulation of laser eye surgery providers. It is vital that we protect patient safety and ensure that anyone carrying out this procedure does so to the highest standards. I am impressed by the case Sasha has made for further action in this area and would urge the Care Quality Commission and other relevant authorities to review current procedures to ensure that everything possible is being done to keep people safe as they undergo laser eye surgery.”
Nine days later I met with Theresa at her Barnet constituency office and she offered her full support after listening to everything I told her.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell told everyone at BED that it’s vital to talk to your MP to bring pressure on the Government.
This applies to every single person in the UK reading this - please please email your MP and ask for a meeting in person! Never mind if they’ve previously sent you a letter fobbing you off with what they’ve been fobbed off with by the DoH or Jeremy Hunt!
I have proven that it does make a difference to meet your MP in person, and if I can do it so can you - please!
Bad Eye Day Lobby at the House of Commons was attended by damaged patients from all over England, Scotland, Ireland and Spain, many accompanied by family or friends.
Once through airport style security everyone met in Central Lobby, where UK residents completed a 'Green Card' asking their MP to come and meet them.
Most MPs were in the House that afternoon as there was a lot going on, and those able to come along to BED lobby did so, commenting afterwards that they'd been unaware of the problems!
MPs too busy to do so agreed to meet with their constituents at a later date.
The meeting began with each person in the room introducing themselves with their name and reason for being at BED.
I had stressed for weeks that I wouldn't be able to fill two hours, but very quickly realised that I could easily have filled twice that time!
Approximately twelve speakers, all damaged by laser or lens replacement surgery, described the devastating effects on their lives.
Even I, who’d heard all these stories previously, was as shocked and upset as everyone else when listening to story after story told in person.
Optical Express patient Ronnie told how he was left permanently blind in one eye after lens exchange in Glasgow performed by Dr David Teenan.
Angela described how her intended career was destroyed by the debilitating results of lasik surgery at Optical Express.
35 yrs old Optimax patient Sarah told how she was left with ectasia and nerve damage in her right eye after lasik, and broke down crying as she described how she was really looking forward to having children until she was advised that pregnancy will greatly exacerbate her painful and extensive eye problems.
A campaigner who'd flown over for the lobby from Ireland explained that he recently underwent further surgery to repair nerve damage caused by lasik at OE, but it was unsuccessful and nothing more can be done to alleviate the constant eye pain he endures. He too cried when he told how resulting depression has damaged his marriage.
Tina told of her husband's eight operations, including a corneal transplant due to keratoconus after initial lasik surgery at OE, and how the cornea split afterwards.
Ultralase patient Cathy described how debilitating results had left her in constant pain and affected her job as a psychiatric nurse, and - like most of us, is now unable to drive at night because of glare from lights.
Craig told how he suffers constant pain in his left temple, with limited peripheral vision in both eyes after eight operations at Optical Express, and how this has affected his relationships with his family.
All of the above are now in litigation.
Raz told how his career as a graphic artist has been seriously damaged from the effects of lasik surgery. He described how he feels he was assaulted on the OE operating table and has suffered with clinical depression since.
Amanda described the excrutiating pain she has suffered for more than seven years, followed by days of blindness, due to corneal erosions after lasek treatment at Optimax in 2007, and how she has considered suicide to end the pain.
Suicide and depression were mentioned by most of the speakers.
I explained that I am no different to anyone else with irreparably damaged vision, and the only way I cope is by fighting and making a lot of noise to ensure the truth is told, and encouraged everyone to do the same.
I said a lot more I can assure you, briefly outlining the attempts made to silence me with threats and bribery offers, and the staggering amount of money spent trying to remove OERML website via Nominet DRS complaints, and why no-one has (or will) attempted to sue me for libel and slander as a cheaper alternative, because every word I say is true and supported with evidence!
We were pleased to welcome Spanish activist Alejandro Vila representing the campaign group Asociación de Afectados por la Cirugía Refractive.
Fluent in Spanish, Seb Corbyn (Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's son) kindly translated for Alejandro, who described how the problems in the UK are exactly the same in Spain, that the high percentage is unacceptable for an operation that is not a medical necessity.
He said that hundreds of victims in Spain suffer serious complications, from chronic eye pain to legal blindness, while private clinics minimize these problems, use misleading advertising and don't adequately inform the patient.
Two hours was definitely far too short a time with so many more people wanting to speak and so much more to be told about this corrupt and uncaring high street industry.
As someone said to me the next day, any TV producer would have been thrilled to have had the speakers on a chat show, and even those suffering problems themselves gasped in horror when they heard some unbelievable accounts of what people had gone through.
Although he was (and always is) incredibly busy, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell made time to address the lobby and spoke for almost nine minutes. He said how he wanted to see an end to the numbers of people left with problems after surgery and urged everyone to meet with their MPs as soon as possible!
Before he dashed back to the Chamber there was an opportunity to take photos when I gave John a big hug (see below), and he joked that he hoped there were no Daily Mail photographers around!
Unfortunately not, we didn’t get the expected press cover due to what was being discussed in the House that afternoon, and reporters who did come along left before John McDonnell and Seb Corbyn had arrived. But that was the only down side to the day - oh yes, and I forgot to switch on my recorder and am still kicking myself for not doing so!
"Why does the government continue to ignore the refractive eye surgery scandal? Unregulated surgery allows high st chains OE/Optimax/Ultralase to damage ppls eyes, destroy lives, cost the gov £mils to fix on NHS, +benefits, while OE et al rip off country by changing co names & put stores into administration while continuing to trade!"
I am so going to hug Jeremy on Wednesday
PS: We have a very beautiful guest joining us on Wednesday, who will no doubt get more hugs than Jeremy Corbyn!
Exit Westminster tube station for Houses of Parliament.
Entrance via Cromwell Green,
If possible, arrive by 3.15pm to clear security and ‘Green card’ your MP - make sure you know his/her name!
"If you have not arranged to meet your MP you will need to go and queue up at the information desk in the central lobby and you will need to collect and fill in a ‘green card.’ Once you have completed the green card and handed this to the information desk it will be dispatched to your MP. The information desk will be able to let you know quite quickly if your MP is not at the House of Commons"
Write a brief note on the Green card that you will be in the Central lobby until 3.45pm and would like him/her to meet you, or to join you later in Committee Rm 10 for the BED lobby for regulation of the refractive eye surgery industry.
If for any reason you are running late, please ask at Central lobby desk for directions to Committee Rm 10, where there will be someone to greet you at the door and take your name.
Re T shirts: a few people emailed me worried that they couldn't wear T shirts to parliament - you definitely can! Ties are for MPs and lawyers!
If you have OERML T shirt PLEASE wear it!
(I have one OERML and a few BED T shirts still available which can be collected on Wednesday)
If I've missed anything else you need to know please ask!
Meanwhile, I am very much looking forward to meeting you all in person