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Cataract surgery waiting times are putting patients at risk

A comprehensive review and meta-analysis looking at the global and regional prevalence of age-related cataract has been published.  This meta-analysis included the outcomes of 45 studies with a combined sample size of 161,947.  Of people aged 60 years of age and over, 54.38% was determined to be the pooled prevalence estimate of cataract.1 More than one in every two of the 60 years plus population were identified in this meta-analysis as having a cataract.  This study supports the known and accepted link between cataract and increasing age – ultimately if we live long enough we will develop a cataract.

Given the magnitude at which cataracts develop it is not surprising that cataract surgery is the most commonly performed elective surgery in the UK.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a huge strain on the NHS, at a time when it was already faced with difficulties. The UK’s aging population, and the growing number of over 65’s requiring treatment for cataracts, meant that patients were facing delays even before coronavirus.  Prior to lockdown, earlier in 2020 patients in some parts of the UK were waiting a number of months for their initial NHS outpatient consultation and up to 7 months for surgery.2 As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need to postpone elective surgery in NHS hospitals, there is a backlog of operations waiting to happen across the country. Patients awaiting treatment for cataracts could now expect even lengthier delays of up to 4 - 5 years.  Many will have only one of both eyes operated on, not due to a cataract not being present in both, but rather down to a postcode lottery. The current burden on the NHS also means that NHS patients are having to be prioritised on a clinical urgency basis. In order to be considered for treatment via the NHS, you will need to meet strict criteria, meaning your vision will need to have deteriorated to a certain level with many patients with an identifiable cataract not being offered NHS surgery in both or even one eye.

This will be particularly alarming to anyone living with a cataract. Cataracts can be very distressing for sufferers, having a profound effect on visual comfort and quality of life. In fact, studies have shown that those who have waited more than 6 months to undergo cataract surgery are more likely to experience further vision loss as a result.Many everyday tasks we take for granted become difficult, if not impossible to a patient with cataract.

It’s not just the extended waiting times that pose a risk to patients awaiting cataract surgery. Glasses especially bifocal or multifocal glasses are, as independent studies have shown, a major cause of falls. This is because; wearers will often misjudge distances and perspectives due to reduced depth perception. Sadly, many falls are nasty enough to require hospital treatment and can negatively impact long term health and wellbeing.5, 6, 7, 8  Unfortunately such patients become a burden upon the NHS, with the cost of care being multiple times that of the cataract procedure.

At Optical Express we guarantee YOUR eye care will always remain our first priority.

With the agreement of our experienced eye care professionals, we can offer you a surgery date just days after you’ve been deemed suitable, in a location that is convenient for you.

By choosing to have surgery with Optical Express, you will be reducing the burden on the NHS at a time of unprecedented pressure on NHS health services. You will also benefit from the excellent service and high-quality outcomes that we offer every patient. At Optical Express we can treat both eyes on the same day, unlike treatment with the NHS; patients won’t have to wait months between their first and second eye, reducing visual discomfort, double or blurred vision, and headaches.

At Optical Express our patients also have access to clinical care locally through our comprehensive clinic network and associated aftercare programme. Clinicians at Optical Express are on hand at any time of the day to answer your questions.

What’s more, visual outcomes at Optical Express are significantly better than those at the NHS, and patients treated at Optical Express are at lower risk of developing complications than those treated by the NHS.9  The state of the art technologies available today are at such a level that many patients enjoy visual freedom as a follow-on to their cataract procedure without the need for glasses or contact lenses.



  1. Global and regional prevalence of age-related cataract: a comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis; Hashemi H et al; Eye 34, 1357-1370(2020)
  2. Action on Cataracts. Reported by NHS Executive.
  3. The consequences of waiting for cataract surgery: a systemic review W Hodge et al 2007
  5. Multifocal Glasses Impair Edge-Contrast Sensitivity and Depth Perception and Increase the Risk of Falls in Older People; Lord SR; J Am Geriatr Soc 2002; 50:1760-6
  6. Epidemiology of falls; Masud T. et al; Age Ageing 2001; 30:3-7;
  9. NHS Comparison with Optical Express clinical outcomes S.Scahllhorn
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