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Devon tops ‘living with cataracts’ league table – yet NHS treatments are readily available

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A private hospital group has released figures which show that Devon has the highest rate of people living with cataracts in the country.

According to the research almost 10,000 people in the county have cataracts, which equates to almost 1.5 per cent of the total population – the highest rate of incidence in the UK.

The statistics are shocking, and ophthalmologists at one popular Devon hospital are keen to reassure patients and make them aware that free, NHS treatments are available – and that there is no need to pay to go privately.

Peninsula NHS Treatment Centre, dubbed ‘saved by the people’ after it avoided closure at the end of last year, carries out around 50 cataract operations a week for patients across Devon and Cornwall. As part of the NHS e-Referral Service, patients can receive cataract treatment for free at the hospital within the 18-week waiting period, via referral from their GP or optician. Treatments are carried out by local NHS consultant ophthalmologist from partner organisation Newmedica.

“When we read the research which showed that so many people in Devon are living with cataracts, we wanted to let them know that free NHS treatment is available from us and that they do not have to pay for cataract surgery", said Patricia Warwick, Hospital Director at the Peninsula NHS Treatment Centre. “We want patients to know that, as long as they meet NHS criteria for surgery, they can receive free NHS treatment from us within 18 weeks, in a consultant-led service. Indeed, at the moment we are working to a 10 to 12 week period.”

Cataract treatments are carried out by local consultant ophthalmic surgeons Tomas Cudrnak and Vasant Rahman. They added: “It is unnecessary for any cataract patient in Devon and Cornwall to have to pay for treatment when it is available on the NHS at this hospital. Patients who come to Peninsula NHS Treatment Centre can be assured of the highest quality of care - our clinical outcomes are excellent and we are confident that we can help to reduce the number of people living with cataracts in the region.”

As well as running operating lists in the week, the team at Peninsula NHS Treatment Centre also run lists at weekends, an option which is especially popular for patients who are reliant on working members of the family or friends to take them to hospital.

It is estimated that around 2.5 million people aged 65 and over in England and Wales have some form of vision impairment caused by cataracts.

A cataract is a clouding of the lens of the eye that can become severe enough to impair vision.

The healthy lens helps to bend light rays entering the eye so that they may fall on the retina lining the back of the eye.

Once a cataract starts developing, the lens loses its transparency and also its ability to change shape. This causes the symptoms of gradual blurring of vision and a change in the effectiveness of a person’s glasses. Often a person with cataract will go to their optometrist believing their glasses are no longer strong enough and learn for the first time about their cataract.

Cataracts may develop with different shapes and growth patterns. The most common cataract affects the whole lens with symptoms of gradual loss of colour, vision and blurring. Some cataracts will affect the very central part of the lens, can come on over a few months causing real difficulty with night-time glare and can be especially noticeable while driving.

Cataract surgery is the removal of the cataract and insertion of an artificial lens into the eye. It is the most successful and most frequently performed operation in the UK with over 325,000 cases annually. Far more than 90 percent of patients operated on have a significant improvement in their vision.

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