Cataracts removed from both eyes in one day as surgeons tackle backlog

Nearly 1,400 people are on the waiting list for cataract surgery in NHS Tayside.

NHS Tayside are removing cataracts from both eyes on the same day in a bid to tackle a backlog caused by the pandemic.

Nearly 1,400 people in the region are waiting for the procedure, and for the first time, doctors at Ninewells Hospital in Dundee have introduced measures to speed up the process.

They have also reduced the time the procedure takes, but surgeons say the waiting list remains “stubbornly” high.

“We’ve introduced a ‘high-volume day’, and on Thursdays we now do 48 patients in one day,” said Dr John Ellis, a lead surgeon at NHS Tayside.

“In a year, that’s 2,200 [surgeries on a Thursday] and, to put that into context, at the turn of the millennium, the entire unit’s output per annum would have been 2,000.

“So we’re now doing in one day what a whole working week used to produce. But we’re hardly shifting the needle on that backlog we’ve inherited from the pandemic.”

The changes, which also include the removal of slow-acting eye drops before the procedure and the introduction of two teams of nurses to assist the surgeon, were introduced in March.

‘Better to get both done’

Arlene Kell underwent surgery earlier this month after her blurred sight led to headaches and nausea.

Her situation was deemed so urgent she was operated on just over a week after she found out she had cataracts.

“I think it’s better to go ahead and get both done, rather than getting one done and coming back later,” she said.

“Once I came back home after the anaesthetic wore off, one of my eyes felt a bit uncomfortable, like there was something in it, and I had a bit of a headache, but once I took paracetamol that cleared up.”

The 64-year-old said the difference in her sight since her operation was “night and day”.

“We came through to the living room and I was like ‘oh’,” she said. “I was looking at my cushions – I never realised they were so bright green.

“All my ornaments were so clear and focused – it was totally different.”

Dr John Ellis says 48 patients are seen every Thursday at Ninewells.

The average time patients have to wait for cataract surgery in Tayside is currently five to six months – but doctors want to reduce that to one month.

NHS Tayside isn’t the only health board to move away from the traditional process of removing one cataract at a time.

Surgeons say hospitals across the country are now looking at their ways of working, and are confident there are no greater risks to patients.

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