How long is the waiting time for cataract surgery?

We use our sight countless times every single day. We use our eyes to drive a car, see the faces of our loved ones, and enjoy TV shows and books we love so much. So, when our sight is threatened by eye problems and cataracts, it’s little wonder we want to correct it as soon as possible.

This means understanding and preparing for the cataract surgery waiting times. Join us as we take a look at the current expectations and norms around the waiting time for cataract surgery.

Optometrist studies an image of an eye before cataract surgery
Optometrist studies an image of an eye

The average wait times for cataract surgery

There are various horror stories circulating about the wait for eye surgery. According to an Optical Express article from 2021, some patients in Northern Ireland have been waiting for four years1. While in Devon, Cornwall and Dorset, some patients have reported a wait of 18 months.

Currently, it seems the average waiting time can be anything from 10 weeks to four years. This depends on your location and how you’re accessing healthcare.

NHS waiting times for cataract surgery

The maximum waiting time for NHS treatments should be 18 weeks.

The data from 2021 strongly indicates an increase in waiting times for NHS cataract surgery patients. The average NHS hospitals waiting time last year was around nine months, with some waiting for much longer than that. The longest waiting time in England was reported by King’s College Hospital, standing at 94 weeks (21 months). However, the shortest waiting time, at Luton & Dunstable University Hospital, was 10 weeks.

How long is the NHS waiting list for cataract surgery?

It’s difficult to pinpoint exact NHS waiting list numbers. However, according to reports, half a million people received NHS cataract surgery in 2021. Along with the sharp increase in waiting times, it’s easy to conclude the waiting list is long and getting longer.

Waiting time for private cataract surgery

Typically, the average waiting time for private cataract surgery is a few weeks after consultation. At Practice Plus Group, you will usually have cataract surgery within seven weeks of your booking enquiry.

Cataract surgery waiting lists – patient priority

As waiting lists and waiting times both grow, patients become increasingly at risk of needing urgent treatment. This means that, due to the longer wait, patients are developing denser cataracts that are more difficult to treat. These complications not only severely limit a patient’s vision, but reduce their ability to enjoy life.

Another frustration to arise is that cataracts are not considered life-threatening. This means cataract surgeries are more prone to being delayed or postponed in favour of life-saving cancer surgeries.

Impact of the pandemic on waiting times for eye surgery

In England, NHS hospitals reported an 84% increase in cataract surgery waiting times from 2019 to 2021. This was caused directly by the pausing of routine procedures due to the pandemic. This has created a backlog of patients who, as has been previously mentioned, in some areas of the UK, face a wait of up to four years for surgery.

How to check cataract surgery waiting times

If you’ve chosen to use the NHS for your cataract surgery, you can check current waiting times local to you. This can be done via their dedicated cataract surgery services page. The page is regularly updated and gives you an accurate view of how long you can expect to wait at each local hospital.

How urgent is cataract surgery?

As mentioned previously, when compared to cancer and other major surgeries, cataract surgery isn’t seen as urgent. Fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic, both NHS waiting lists and times have soared. This means the conditions of many cataract patients have worsened, causing their quality of life to drop.

Is it better to have cataract surgery sooner or later?

Cataracts are treatable regardless of the time the patient has had them. However, there are advantages to having your surgery sooner rather than later:

  • shorter recovery time
  • reduced surgery time
  • decreased risk of significant visual impairments
  • Improved quality of life and mental health

How long can you wait to have cataract surgery?

If left untreated, your cataracts and eye health will gradually worsen over time. Daily activities such as driving and reading will become increasingly difficult. This could negatively affect your general quality of life. Without cataract procedures such as surgery, you will eventually experience total sight loss.

What to do when waiting for cataract surgery

While you might not be able to do much to reduce waiting times, there is some cataract guidance you can follow to manage your eyesight.

Avoiding hazards – With reduced vision, even floors and objects around your house can become trip hazards. Removing rugs and taking care around uneven surfaces can help avoid falls.

Increase the size of reading font – Instead of reading, why not try podcasts or audiobooks? Post can be made easier to read by notifying your providers to send mail with enlarged font.

TV Audio Description – If your cataracts are affecting enjoyment of your favourite TV shows, you can enable TV Audio Description. This will describe what’s happening on the screen, so you won’t miss a thing.

Avoid bright lights – If you’re struggling to read, sitting with your back to bright lights can help. Otherwise, you should use blinds and curtains to shield your eyes from bright sunshine.

Getting help – Enlisting the help of family and friends to help with every chores and activities is a great idea. However, the help doesn’t have to end there. There are various charities dedicated to eye care that can help you with advice. Maintaining a healthy diet and not smoking can also be very beneficial to keeping your eyes healthy.

How to speed up treatment for cataracts

As mentioned previously, if you’ve chosen to use the NHS for your cataract surgery, you can check current waiting times local to you via their dedicated Cataract Surgery services page. The page is regularly updated and gives you an accurate view of how long you can expect to wait at each local hospital. It can also help you to find information on how to switch waiting lists.

If you’ve chosen pay for yourself surgery with Practice Plus Group, you’ll only have to wait a maximum of seven weeks from the date of your booking enquiry. Why wait longer? Learn about private cataract surgery costs.