British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who is blind in his left eye, has been treated for two minor tears in the retina of the right eye in which he has limited vision, his office at Number 10 Downing Street said on Saturday, days before the start of the new, and possibly his toughest, parliamentary session.
The tears were detected during what his office called a “regular” test at the specialist Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. Brown lost the sight in his left eye playing rugby as a teenager. Surgeons managed to save the right eye but he has limited sight and needs regular check-ups.
Downing Street said he would not need surgery and his vision was not affected, adding: “His eyesight has not deteriorated and there is nothing to stop him getting on with the job.”
A spokesman declined to be drawn on whether Brown had undergone a non-surgical procedure such as laser treatment.
Brown told a US talkshow host last month that his eyesight was “not at all deteriorating,” after former Cabinet minister Charles Clarke suggested he might quit before the election on medical grounds.
In a statement, Downing Street said Brown “had his annual check-up, which was fine” in summer, but subsequently underwent further tests on his retina, which found two tears.
“However, as there has been no further deterioration, and no change in his eyesight, [surgeons] decided against further operations,” it said.
A spokesman declined to comment on whether Brown had suffered symptoms of a tear — which can include flashing lights or distorted vision — but said it was found during “regular” checks. Tests on Friday established Brown’s eyesight was “fine,” he said.
The risk of retinal tears increases with age and about 3 percent of adults above 40 in the UK experience them. They occur when the jelly-like vitreous humor at the back of the eye peels away from the retina, the light-sensitive tissue that lines the wall of the eye.
Tears serious enough to require treatment can be treated with lasers, cryotherapy (a “freezing” treatment), or surgery. Sources close to Brown said his treatment had been disclosed in order to be “upfront.”
The episode will be an unwelcome distraction in a critical week, with Brown potentially among about 300 ministers of parliament (MP) expected to receive a letter tomorrow querying aspects of their parliamentary expenses claims from auditor Thomas Legg, whom Brown asked to carry out an independent inquiry.
“There is a good chance that Gordon might have to pay back stuff from his cleaning bill,” a senior Labour party source said. “The rumor is that [Legg] is saying what is reasonable is the rule. The worst thing is that even if you have checked it with the Fees Office and they say it’s absolutely fine, he might say you still should pay it back.”
Brown will tell his MPs to “cooperate fully” with Legg at a meeting of the parliamentary party tonight. One insider admitted the mood could be “grim.”
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