What is the difference between private cataract surgery and cataract surgery on the NHS?

Interview transcription:

In this interview, Alex Shortt explains the difference between private cataract surgery and cataract surgery on the NHS.

Alex Shortt: The NHS provides a considerable amount of cataract surgery to the population, and most people end up having their cataract surgery done exceptionally well on the NHS.

However, if you seek private cataract surgery, you can expect some key differences. The most significant difference is that we can correct your vision so that you no longer need glasses after surgery.

The job of the NHS is not to correct your eyesight; it is to remove your cataracts and give you a lens implant. However, the NHS is limited in the choice of lens implants it can provide.

Interviewer: When you say that the NHS is limited with the types of lenses it can provide, what is the main difference? What can the NHS provide vs what’s available privately?

Alex Shortt: The only lens implant type that the NHS can use is called the monofocal or a single-focus lens implant. So the cataract surgery is performed, and the lens implant is inserted. The NHS surgeon will then have to choose a focus to leave the patient. This is almost always the distance. The distance vision is restored so that the patient can see well. However, from the TV range inwards, their vision will be blurred, and it will be necessary to wear glasses.

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There are a group of patients who have what’s called astigmatism. Astigmatism is when the shape of your eye isn’t perfectly round. It’s ever so slightly oval, and therefore, you need an oval lens implant effectively to correct the vision for the distance.

If you have astigmatism and you have cataract surgery on the NHS, it may not be possible to correct your astigmatism. In this case, you end up needing glasses both for the distance and for reading. Many patients are perfectly happy wearing varifocal glasses with astigmatism correction in them. However, we do have other patients that haven’t worn glasses for most of their lives until they got cataracts or until they started needing reading glasses, and this frustrates them and impacts their quality of life and their hobbies. This is the type of patient who comes to us and says, ‘you know, I never used to wear glasses’, or, ‘I always wanted to get rid of my glasses. Can I take this opportunity to combine cataract surgery with sight correction?’ This is what we can do with private cataract surgery. Many of us call it refractive cataract surgery because we’re dealing with cataract and also the refractive and glasses issue, all at the same time.

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About the author

Mr Alex J. Shortt | Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon

MB BCh MSc PhD FRCOphth PGDipCatRef

I’m Alex Shortt, a highly trained academic researcher and Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon based in London’s famous Harley Street medical district. I trained and worked as a consultant for 14 years at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital. I specialise in advanced technologies for correcting vision, including cataract surgery, implantable contact lenses and laser vision correction.

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