The UK is facing a cataracts catastrophe as the Covid-19 lockdown heaps pressure on already overstretched surgeons able to perform the eye operations.
A leading eye specialist is warning of a ‘ticking time bomb’ due to a backlog of patients who were not able to be treated by their ophthalmologist at the height of the pandemic shutdown.
It could even lead to scores of people going blind if there aren’t enough appointments available on the NHS to meet the desperate demand.
Leading eye surgeon David Allamby, from the London Cataract Centre, said: “There is a genuine threat of a cataracts crisis just around the
corner. As ever, the likely outcome is that the patient will suffer.
“The Covid-19 shutdown meant important routine appointments were missed and now there is an inevitable backlog to get through these patients.
“However, cataracts don’t simply go away – they tend to get worse over time.”
Dr Allamby also warned that not addressing the cataracts issue could have a knock-on effect for other conditions.
He added: “Studies have shown that people who live with cataracts have worse cognitive decline.
“This increases the risk of dementia, for example, because they give up reading and engaging in other activities, which lead to a lack of social
“They are also more at risk of falling, breaking hips and other injuries, thereby increasing the chances of earlier mortality.”
Cataracts are caused when an eye lens – the small transparent lens just behind the coloured iris – starts to develop cloudy patches.
Over time these patches grow, blurring vision and ultimately leading to blindness. The risk of cataracts increases with age.
Generally it’s the over 65 age group that is most at risk, but a growing elderly population has led to serious concern there’s a growing shortage of specialists to treat the condition.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists warned in 2017 that due to a rapidly ageing population the number of required operations is expected
to increase 50 per cent by 2040.
Now experts fear a surge in lockdown-related delayed operations will have added a severe strain to the situation, resulting in even more
patients waiting long periods for surgery.
The latest NHS data shows the number of patients waiting for more than a year for any surgery has surged from just over 1,000 before the Covid-19 pandemic to around 50,000.
Added to the mix is the Government’s 10-year freeze in new opthalmologist training posts, meaning that Britain is speeding towards
a major shortfall that will cripple patient care.
Fears are growing that the NHS will simply not be able to cope with the number of new patients or catch up with the aftermath of the coronavirus lockdown.