Health bosses have been forced into an embarrassing U-turn after refusing to pay for the treatment of two pensioners facing blindness.

Olive Roberts, 79, and her husband Ron, 81, from Malmesbury, both have wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the most common form of blindness in the UK. Both need treatment urgently to minimise their loss of sight.

But the Wiltshire PCT refused and the couple were forced to choose which one of them would receive private treament with their life savings.

The story has sparked a media frenxy throughout the day and the bewildered couple have been interviews by dozens of radio, TV and newspaper journalists. They are due to appear on GMTV tomorrow.

The PCT, which has been under seige from journalists all day, has refused to answer any questions but this afternoon announced it would fund treatment for Mrs Roberts.

Mr Roberts said: "It's the most wonderful news. The word we used before was 'devastated' but now that word is 'elated'."

Dr Paul Jakeman, Medical Director for Wiltshire Primary Care Trust, said: "The RNIB is wrong to claim that the NHS is forcing an elderly couple to choose which one's sight should be saved'.

It is not clear what steps, if any, the RNIB took to check the facts of this case, but a phone call to Wiltshire PCT could have corrected the more obvious errors.

"These are facts as the PCT has them: "Mr Roberts requires a further diagnostic test before it can be decided what is the most appropriate treatment for his condition.

"Mrs Roberts was diagnosed with wet age-related macular degeneration at the end of December, when her specialist advised that treatment should commence within 12 weeks.

"When Mr Roberts contacted the PCT at the end of January for information on funding of possible treatments, we explained to him that where a new treatment or procedure has not yet been appraised by NICE, Wiltshire PCT considers individual's needs on a case-by-case basis. We also explained that our Exceptions Committee that considers these requests meets frequently so there would not be a long delay in getting a decision. He indicated that he was happy with this process.

"The Committee received a request for exceptional funding from Mr and Mrs Roberts' specialist in mid-February and considered this request at the earliest opportunity, which was its monthly meeting scheduled for today (Tues 6 March 2007). This is well within the 12-week timescale set out by her consultant.

"At its meeting today, the Committee agreed to fund treatment for Mrs Roberts, and Wiltshire PCT is pleased to confirm that she will be starting treatment on the NHS as soon as possible."

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