Government targets stipulate that routine conditions should be treated within 18 weeks across a range of specialities, but many face longer delays.

In June 2018, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment released a report on NHS ophthalmic care in England. It highlighted that eye health should be given higher priority and that future demand needed to be assessed properly and appropriate funding made available. But the latest NHS data shows that waiting lists for routine eye treatment are getting worse. The number of patients waiting more than the 18-week target has more than tripled in the last four years.

This follows widespread reports recently that many patients are being denied routine surgery. Cataract surgery is the most common NHS operation, with 300,000 performed every year. Guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on the cost-effectiveness of cataract surgery highlights its high success rate in improving visual function and quality of life. According to the Royal National Institute for Blind People (RNIB), those suffering cataracts are twice as likely to suffer a fall and risk injury. Yet waiting lists are getting longer, not shorter, suggesting the APPG’s recommendations are not being given proper priority.

Andrew Clayton, who leads a team specialising in ophthalmic claims at Penningtons Manches, comments: “There is clear clinical evidence of the importance of patients being able to use both eyes together. Every day, 100 people in the UK start to lose their sight, but more than 50% of this is avoidable. Cataract is progressive and vision gets worse over time, yet surgery is being routinely denied or delayed to many sufferers.

“Clinical advances in the treatment of a number of eye conditions over recent years offer many patients scope to preserve or even improve their sight. The advantages to individual patients are obvious, with vision being the most valued of our senses, but there are wider benefits, too. Patients suffering impaired vision are at great risk of suffering traumatic injuries - increasing demand on GPs and hospitals to treat these, particularly in elderly patients. Further, the loss of independence that follows impaired vision gives rise to the need for greater social care and support. To deny or delay routine eye surgery goes against expert guidance, including from NICE and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, and leaves already vulnerable patients at increased and unacceptable risk. Those failing to follow the APPG recommendations are failing to deliver acceptable levels of care and need to be held to account.”