What are the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on UK cataract surgery waiting lists?

21 October 2021

Author: Kate Green

40 percent reduction in cataract surgery

40% reduction in cataract surgery during the pandemic


The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every part of society from employment levels and food supply chains, to education and the rate of inflation. Most notable, however, is the devastating impact on the National Health Service (NHS). More than half a million patients have been admitted to UK hospitals since the start of the pandemic, and thousands of them required ventilation and care in the ICU. Understandably, this put a massive strain on the NHS, with hundreds of thousands of non-urgent procedures put on hold to create capacity and bed space for COVID-19 patients. In fact, there has been a 38% fall in the number of outpatients during the pandemic, as these are often categorised as non-urgent.


As a society, 18 months on, we’re slowly beginning to recover from the effects of the pandemic. As a part of this, NHS England announced last month that they will be receiving an extra £5.4 billion to help tackle waiting lists which have built up since March 2020. The government have highlighted that the cataract surgery waiting list is something which urgently needs addressing, and so £1.5 billion of the fund will be put towards bringing down the elective surgery waiting lists. With a 40% reduction in the number of cataract surgeries being performed during the pandemic, this funding could not be more needed.


The Royal College of Ophthalmologists and British Ophthalmic Surveillance Unit estimate that up to 22 patients are losing their vision each month, as a result of lengthening ophthalmic surgery waiting lists. Currently, there are over half a million people waiting for ophthalmology services and this number will only grow without investment in the sector. The £5.4 billion of funds is well-timed to help clear the eye care surgery backlogs following the pandemic.


Why is cataract surgery so important?


Life with deteriorating vision can be scary, especially when there is no treatment date in sight. Cataracts usually affect people from their sixties onwards and become more common in older patients as the years go by. Loss of vision affects your independence and has been said to lead to more trips and falls in older people, resulting in potentially serious injuries. Deteriorating vision can also affect caring responsibilities, especially as cataracts typically occur in patients who are of the age where they may be caring for a spouse or similarly-aged friends and family members.


Further to this, cataracts can prevent you from being safe to drive, potentially rendering your car insurance invalid. Again, this takes away an older person’s independence and, without a nearby support network, it is likely to have disastrous impacts on both their mental and physical health. While the number of cataract surgeries performed in the last 18 months has fallen by 40%, the number of people living with vision loss due to cataracts has continued to rise steadily.


Solutions to tackle cataract surgery waiting lists


The waiting list for NHS cataract surgery is longer than 6 months in some parts of the UK. The NHS recommends that no patient should wait longer than 18 weeks for treatment, which is where the services of Optimax and our sister company, Ultralase, come in. To help alleviate some of the pressure of long waiting lists, we will be facilitating cataract treatment and other sight-saving ophthalmic surgery in Optimax and Ultralase clinics around the country.


By offering a variety of ophthalmic outpatient assessment and treatment solutions (mainly for cataract surgery, but also for glaucoma, dry eye and more) to patients in Optimax and Ultralase clinics, we can help bring down NHS waiting times for these crucial procedures.


We have Optimax and Ultralase facilities ready to take on NHS treatments in a range of clinics around England. These include our specialist facilities in London Harley Street, Brighton, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Maidstone, Newton Abbot, and Southampton. We will also be opening a new lens surgery theatre in Glasgow at the beginning of 2022.


Simply put by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, “long-term investment in the ophthalmology workforce is also needed to ensure that the rapidly growing patient demand is met in the coming years.” At Optimax, we’re proud to be a part of the solution.


To find out more about the Optimax/Ultralase group’s plans to bring down NHS cataract surgery waiting lists, read more on our website, or contact Chris Fisher and Paul Walker for further information.

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