PLANS to send people outwith the Lothians for cataract operations will be disruptive to patients and hinder progress of trainee doctors, it is claimed.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists criticised NHS Lothian proposals to outsource more eye surgery to Glasgow in a bid to reduce a backlog.
The trust admitted the department is struggling to cope as demand in the Capital has soared, causing them to look to private clinics.
The explosion in numbers – blamed on the prevalence of diabetes and an ageing population – led to nearly 400 patients waiting more than 12 weeks to be seen in June.
It has led to health bosses sending cases to the Golden Jubilee National Waiting Times Centre. But a spokesman for the RCO, the professional body for eye doctors, said the college had “concerns” about outsourcing works from hospitals.
He said: “It may have a destabilising effect on local services and have an effect on being able to train trainees.
“The easy and straight forward cases disappear so they don’t have them to train up.
“These patients get cherry- picked. Anything that is remotely difficult gets sent back. It’s a waste of time for the patient and a duplication of investigations.”
He added it could lead to future funding issues for ophthalmology departments if theatres were deemed to be under-used, and not all clinics were fully equipped if something goes wrong.
The missed targets come as more urgent cases, such as patients suffering from macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, are treated as a priority as they are at greater risk of blindness,
It has meant people with lesser clinical priorities – such as people awaiting cataract operations – are being delayed.
Dr David Farquharson, Medical Director, NHS Lothian said the plans were to address the increase in the number of people waiting too long for ophthalmology appointments.
“The challenges in this area have been exacerbated by the need to regularly review patients who are not covered by the waiting times standard but are of a higher clinical priority and at greater risk of losing their sight, such as those with glaucoma or diabetes-related problems.
“In order to ensure we treat people as quickly as possible we will be increasing our use of the National Waiting Times Centre and independent sector for ophthalmology services until we have sufficient sustainable capacity within NHS Lothian.” Ian Brown, of the Royal National Institute of Blind People, said swift surgery was important as delays to treatments had a debilitating impact on the everyday lives of people. He said: “Cataracts can stop people from being able to read and drive which is a problem for people working or even if they are retired.
Life through a lens
CATARACTS are cloudy patches on the lens which cause loss of sight.
They affect a third of people aged over 65 and can be treated by cataract surgery, which involves replacing the damaged lens with an artificial implant. Cataracts can develop in one or both eyes, and one eye can often be more affected than the other.
The lens is the transparent structure at the front of the eye. It is normally clear and allows light to pass through to the back of the eye. However, if parts of the lens become cloudy, light is unable to pass through the cloudy patches.
Over time, the cloudy patches become bigger, and more of them develop. As less light is able to pass through the lens, the person’s vision is likely to become blurred or cloudy.