Patients waiting for NHS cataract surgery are at serious risk and are more likely to require urgent treatment according to community eye care professionals across the country.
Waiting times for NHS cataract surgery soared after routine procedures were paused during the pandemic. The backlog of patients is now so large that in some areas people are routinely being told they will have to wait up to four years before their cataracts will be treated.
Cataracts generally affect older people, and community optometrists report that they are increasingly seeing their patients develop dense, more difficult to treat cataracts as a result of the long waits. These complications are severely limiting people’s vision, having a knock on impact on their ability to enjoy life, and potentially leading them to need more critical treatment.
Mary Patterson, a Specialist Refractive Optometrist who works in an Optical Express clinic in Belfast says:
“The number of people awaiting cataract surgery in Northern Ireland has reached an unprecedented level. It is not uncommon to expect to wait up to four years from referral to surgery. We are seeing an increase in patients who have been waiting for so long they now have dense, debilitating cataracts.
“Dense cataracts can greatly affect a patient’s vision. Often these patients are vulnerable and are suffering from a loss of independence which can then mean they have to rely on family and friends for help with routine tasks.
“Cataract waiting times have really suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic began and unfortunately there is no predicting when this will improve. Waiting times for cataract surgery in NI can be up to four years and whilst the HSC and NHS offers excellent treatment, this lengthy waiting time can be unacceptable for many patients.
“My advice to patients who are worried is to get your eyes tested regularly so you can catch any symptoms early. For those patients who are waiting, some may want to consider other options rather than wait on HSC or NHS appointments. Private cataract treatment can be more affordable than people think. Personally, I feel one solution would be to see the private sector and the HSC/NHS work closely together to get patients treated quicker, reducing waiting lists and preventing patients developing dense cataracts which can lead to more complicated surgery and recovery.”
Paul Cheshire, an Optical Express Optometrist based in Plymouth says:
“Over the past year patients in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, have reported that the NHS waiting list for cataract surgery is between 18 months and four years. This has left many patients feeling hopeless and depressed due to the detrimental effect on their daily, family and working life.
“With the increased waiting times, I am now seeing denser cataracts including morgagnian cataracts that previously I had only seen in textbooks. I now have cases of these as frequently as a few times a month. The increase in the severity of the cataracts is preventing people from leading what we would all consider to be a normal life. The presence of cataract, and the inability to undertake tasks they took for granted, is affecting their mental health. I have even had several patients report that they thought they were sadly going blind.
“I am advising patients who have to wait longer to seek regular eye examinations to ensure they have the most up to date prescription and they comply with current driving standards. Many of my patients live in rural areas and their ability to drive is their lifeline.
“It is very disappointing when a patient tells me that they have been told it will now take 84 weeks just to get a consultation at the local hospital, never mind surgery. As a result, we have seen a threefold increase in patients requesting private cataract surgery. It has been a privilege to be able to help patients get back to their much-loved everyday tasks, such as the artist back to painting, the HGV driver back to work as a keyworker delivering food through the pandemic and the teacher back to seeing her students in the classroom.”
At Optical Express, thanks to our nationwide network of clinics, we can treat cataracts in a matter of weeks. You don’t need to endure lengthy waiting lists for treatment. If you have any concerns about your vision and think you may be suffering from cataracts book a free consultation appointment at your nearest Optical Express clinic today to speak to one of our experts.Book Your Free Consultation