Free transport service for Tees Valley residents who need NHS cataract surgery


SpaMedica driver Dave Bell – picture credit Greg Harding Photography

Submitted by Helen Louise

Tees Valley residents who need NHS cataract surgery are benefitting from a free transport service that is helping cut treatment waiting times across the region.

With estimated waits from referral to cataract surgery between 34 and 63 weeks in the local area, SpaMedica – a UK-leading provider of NHS cataract surgery with a hospital in Stockton-on-Tees – can offer appointments within just four weeks.

It is supporting the NHS to reduce the cataracts backlog, thanks to its own bus network providing a free, door-to-door support service for patients who might otherwise be unable to access surgery to restore their sight.

David Bell, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, is one of the drivers covering the North East region. A self-employed taxi driver for 17 years before joining SpaMedica’s patient driver team, David was diagnosed with diabetes and decided to give up taxi driving two days before the first UK Covid lockdown, feeling particularly vulnerable to continue working. He was pleased to get back behind the wheel in a new role for SpaMedica in late 2020 because of his personal experiences.

He said: “My mum had cataracts in both of her eyes and had the procedure. She’s now 87 and still driving her 4×4, so I know first-hand the difference this surgery makes, and I can put patients at ease.

“All patient drivers have the opportunity to go in to observe the surgery, which means we know what it’s like and can reassure the patients if any of them are apprehensive.”

Leanne Durante, regional manager at SpaMedica for Stockton-on-Tees, said: “We’re dedicated to delivering the highest quality care, whilst helping to reduce NHS cataract surgery waiting times for patients, from up to a year in this region, to about four weeks.

“We operate our free bus service because we know NHS patients benefit from it – whether they’re vulnerable, live in rural locations with limited public transport links, or are travelling from further afield to reach us. Plus, the service is the first step in reducing any anxiety on the day of surgery.

“Our team of eyecare specialists work hard to ensure all of our patients feel welcome and calm before going in for their appointment, and we’re proud that over 99% of patients say they would recommend us to friends and family.

“Cataracts can rob people of their quality of life and independence, but for the majority of people it is a treatable condition, and the procedure itself is quick and straightforward.”

Common in adults – about 30% of adults aged 65+ will have a cataract that is affecting their vision and requires treatment – and cataract surgery is the most common operation performed today in the UK, with about 450,000 surgeries performed each year.

Cataracts Symptoms you may experience one or more of the following cataracts symptoms:

  • A decrease in vision clarity that can’t be corrected with glasses
  • Colours appear faded or washed out, sometimes with a yellow haze
  • Sensitivity to light, glare, and seeing halos around lights
  • Frequent changes to glasses or contact lens prescriptions

It’s best to see an optician if you think you have cataracts. They will perform a thorough eye check and will be able refer you for treatment if needed.

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Elena Johaness

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