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Patients waiting up to six months for NHS cataract operations

Private providers are now carrying out a fifth of NHS-funded ops

Patients with poor eyesight are waiting almost six months for operations on the NHS to remove cataracts, figures show.

The data from NHS Digital reveals patients in Herefordshire are facing average delays of 168 days (five months and 17 days) for cataract surgery.

Waiting times in Great Yarmouth and Waveney in Norfolk are the second-worst in England at 163 days, followed by 154 days in North Lincolnshire.

Helen Lee, policy manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, told the Guardian long waits often result in people losing their independence and becoming depressed as they can no longer do ordinary things like drive, go out at night and see bus numbers.

“People are more at risk of falls, which can lead to hip fractures and hospitalisation, which can be devastating,” she warned.

Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence states that people with a cataract should be referred to have it removed promptly if it is giving them cloudy vision and affecting their quality of life.

The number of cataract removals by the NHS has risen over the past decade from 284,897 in 2007-08 to 377,397 in 2017-18.

However, people in 17 CCG areas are having to wait at least four months on average for operations, while waits for cataract removal have risen by three months in some places since 2014.

Average waits in Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG have more than doubled from 71 days in 2014-15 to 163 days in April-October 2018. Similarly, waits have worsened by 83 days over that time in Dudley, Vale of York and North Lincolnshire CCGs.

Lengthening delays and the growing demand for cataract operations has resulted in the NHS sending more patients to be treated privately. In 2013-14, it paid for independent providers to perform 41,860 cataract removals, a figure which jumped by 79% to 75,005 by 2017-18.

This means that almost one in five of the 377,397 NHS-funded cataract procedures in England that year were done in the private sector, according to the figures reported by the newspaper.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We expect all patients to have timely access to cataract surgery. Through our NHS long-term plan, we will boost the number of planned procedures and reduce waiting lists.”