LONDON – Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain disclosed Saturday that an eye examination showed two tears in his right retina — a revelation that could embolden critics who want him to step down before a national election.
Downing Street moved quickly to quash speculation over Brown's health, issuing the statement only one day after a regular examination at a London eye hospital. Brown's office said his eyesight remained unchanged and that no operations were planned to address the situation.
"Were there to be any change, he would of course make a further statement," Brown's office said in a statement.
Brown, who lost the use of his left eye in a sporting accident when he was a teenager and had surgery to save the sight in the other one, has been dogged by questions about his eyesight in recent months.
During a visit to the United States for the Group of 20 summit, he was forced to deny that he was slowly going blind.
NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams had questioned Brown over reports that he was using larger and larger text sizes as his remaining vision declined.
"I had all sorts of operations," Brown said during the September interview. "I then had one operation on the other eye and that was very successful, so my sight is not at all deteriorating," he said.
The same month he told the BBC that "it would be a terrible, terrible indictment of our political system if you thought that because someone had this medical issue they couldn't do their job."
The September comments came as former Home Secretary Charles Clarke told the London Evening Standard newspaper that he hoped rumors Brown would quit — perhaps on health grounds — would come true.
Brown must call a general election by June 2010. Recent polls overwhelmingly suggest that the opposition Conservative Party will win after 13 years out of power.
British prime ministers rarely disclose details about their health unless they need to take time off work — as in 2004, when Brown's predecessor Tony Blair had a surgical procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat.
Som Prasad, a consultant ophthalmologist at Arrowe Park Hospital in northwest England, said retinal tears affect 3 percent of people over 40 in Britain, and only occasionally cause serious problems.