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Treating cataracts at Benenden Hospital

Cataract surgery is one of the most common procedures carried out in the UK and, as with any operation, it helps to know what to expect. Jackie Kinch, operations manager at Benenden Hospital’s eye unit, explains what it involves.

Q: What are cataracts, what causes them and who gets them?
A: A cataract is when the lens in your eye becomes cloudy or, in some cases, hardens. Cataracts become worse gradually, making it difficult for you to see and do everyday things such as moving around your home. We don’t really know what causes cataracts. They can develop as you grow older, but they don’t appear to be hereditary. They are more likely to develop if you’ve damaged your eye in an accident or had a foreign body – such as grit – in your eye.

Q: Is surgery the only treatment option?
A: The only effective treatment for cataracts is surgical removal of the cloudy lens. If you leave them they will continue to slowly deteriorate; they cannot recover.

Q: How soon after discovering I have cataracts will I need surgery?
A: It’s really only necessary when you feel it’s beginning to affect your life. If you’re having difficulty driving at night or feel worried about going out on your own, then that’s the right time for surgery.

Q: Are your eye surgeons specialists?
A: Yes, they are. You’ll have a consultation with one of our ophthalmic surgeons, who will examine your eye or eyes, and then explain what treatment you will need. All surgeons at the eye unit are specialists and are extremely experienced in cataract surgery. Last year we carried out 1,700 cataract operations here, and the team have carried out many thousands of these procedures during their careers.

Q: What happens during the operation?
A: We only use local anaesthetic eye drops to numb the eye, we don’t use injections. If any patient is concerned about the operation, we can give them an additional sedative to help them feel calm. The surgeon makes two tiny incisions (of less than three millimetres each) in your eye. Then they insert an instrument that turns the lens to liquid. This is sucked out through the smaller hole. The new lens is rolled up and injected through one of the incisions. The lens unfurls, and the surgeon positions it correctly and cleans up the eye. The patient can then sit up, and we put a shield or dressing over their eye to protect it. They keep this on for a couple of hours. When they’re feeling well enough, they have a cup of tea and watch a brief video on how to take care of their eye. The patient goes home with information, and eye drops to reduce the risk of inflammation and infection.

Q: Will I see better right away?
A: This varies from person to person. Some people can see better straight away, with others it can take a week or more to see a difference. If you have cataracts in both eyes you will normally need two separate operations. There’s usually a gap of three to four weeks in between.

Replacement lenses

With a range of lenses available, other vision problems can be corrected at the same time. The standard procedure is the insertion of a new lens, called a monofocal lens, which gives you good vision at one focal point – either at a distance or close to you. We have three other types of lens that can help to correct other vision problems. These are available, at additional cost, to self-pay or private patients and Benenden members. They are not available to NHS patients.

Toric lenses correct astigmatism, a condition where your cornea or lens has an uneven curve, which can cause blurred vision. A toric lens can give you clear vision in the distance, but you would still need reading glasses.

Multifocal lenses allow you to focus on objects that are close to and objects that are at a distance.

Astigmatism-correcting multifocal lenses correct astigmatism and mean that you can focus on objects that are close to and far away. These lenses vastly reduce the need for glasses.

Information about getting treatment

  • Benenden Hospital accepts NHS, private or self-funded patients, as well as Benenden Personal Healthcare members. (You must be 19 or older to have cataract surgery.)
  • First, if you believe you have a cataract or cataracts, see your GP or optician, who may then refer you to an ophthalmic consultant.
  • If you do require treatment, as an NHS patient you can ask to be seen at Benenden Hospital. You or your GP can make an appointment using the NHS e-Referral Service (previously Choose and Book) available online [] or by calling 0345 608 8888.
  • Self-pay patients and those with private health insurance can call the dedicated private patients co-ordinator at Benenden Hospital on 01580 242521.
  • For those with Benenden Personal Healthcare: if you’ve been referred for cataract surgery on the NHS and feel the waiting list is too long, call Member Services on 0800 414 8100* and ask whether Benenden may be able to assist you.

This article first appeared in Benhealth magazine, autumn 2015 (issue 32).