Over 100,000 laser refractive surgery procedures are performed in the UK each year to decrease dependency on prescription glasses or lenses. “People who want to lead an active life choose refractive surgery,” says Mr Bruce Allan, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital. “It’s entirely elective. There are different procedures to suit most age groups, and it’s primarily functional rather than cosmetic – there’s a reason why professional sportspeople don’t wear glasses.”

The surgery is not available on the NHS or via private medical insurers – a situation which is unlikely to change, he believes, because of the demand for healthcare in non-elective areas.

However, many people are unaware that it can be carried out in private clinics within a hospital setting. “The risks of laser refractive surgery are similar to those of continuing in contact lenses, and modern procedures are generally very safe wherever you choose to have them done,” says Allan. “Local private clinics offer convenience and location benefits; a hospital setting may offer enhanced continuity of care and access to a wider range of specialised procedures.”

 

Improving processes

 

New standards being introduced in March by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists aim to improve patient information making it evidence-based, clear and consistent, Allan explains. The guidelines will also recommend that surgeons meet their patients at least one week before the procedure – this is already standard in a most hospital settings and in some local private clinics. “It’s important to meet and feel comfortable with the surgeon, to understand the procedure and discuss risks and care after surgery.”

LASIK, SMILE and surface laser surgery are the three most common procedures. The use of multifocal implants – particularly popular in the 50+ age group – has come on “in leaps and bounds” over the past 10 years. Another area that’s moving fast is big data: “With technology, we can gather outcome data much faster instead of waiting years for the results of clinical trials. We hope to build current data programmes into a national database. Big data shows how small changes influence outcomes.”