Eye Care Backlogs in the UK — What Do We Do?

Tej Kohli
4 min readJun 2


Image of Dr Sanduk Ruit at a Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation outreach camp in Nepal

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on healthcare systems across the world, and the NHS is no exception. One of the major consequences of the pandemic has been the backlog of appointments and procedures, with many non-urgent treatments being postponed or cancelled to free up resources to deal with the pandemic.

As the world has made the move out of the pandemic, many health issues and procedures have gone unaddressed, particularly issues with eye care. The NHS backlog is causing significant harm to patients, with clinicians filing 551 reports stating that patients have lost their eyesight since 2019. Of these reports, 219 patients were left with moderate or severe harm due to the backlog, indicating that the situation is only getting worse.

A Health Emergency

The Association of Optometrists has deemed this a health emergency, highlighting the need for urgent action to be taken. The situation is particularly concerning given that cataracts affect 2.5 million people aged 65 and over in the UK and cataract surgery is the most common surgery performed in the country, with 400,000 procedures carried out each year.

However, despite the prevalence of cataracts, there are only 1,426 ophthalmologists in NHS hospitals who are skilled and experienced enough to perform complex surgical procedures on the eyes out of a total of 3,500. This means that many patients are left waiting for appointments, with 630,000 people currently waiting for ophthalmology appointments in the UK — compared to around 260,000 in 2011.

The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the issue, with many non-urgent appointments and procedures being postponed or cancelled to free up resources to deal with the pandemic. As a result, it is estimated that around 22 people every month end up with severe or permanent sight loss due to delays caused by the capacity challenges the NHS currently faces.

It is clear that urgent action is needed to address this backlog and prevent further harm to patients. The government must invest in more resources for the NHS to increase capacity and reduce waiting times for appointments and procedures. Additionally, training and recruiting more ophthalmologists must be a priority, ensuring that patients receive the necessary care they require.

Social & Economic Issues

Through founding the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation with Dr Sanduk Ruit, I have seen first-hand the effects that blindness, more specifically needless cataract blindness, can have on an individual. Blindness has the power to completely cripple someone socially and economically.

Through the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation’s grassroots intervention, we have seen patients’ social and economic situations improve significantly. Seeing how surgical intervention across the developing world can lift someone out of poverty, creates a cause for concern for those awaiting surgery in the UK.

A New Approach

The implementation of effective and affordable surgical methods in the UK has the potential to significantly improve the lives of those living in poverty. The Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation has successfully implemented such methods in Nepal, Bhutan, and Ghana, where patients suffering from cataract blindness have been cured in just seven minutes for as low as $50.

Sustainable, affordable, and practical surgical methods are critical in addressing poverty. The Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation’s method of cataract surgery is an example of a successful approach to providing accessible and low-cost surgery. The dire effects of the pandemic have led to thousands of individuals falling below the poverty line in the UK, with many experiencing unnecessary suffering due to NHS backlogs. Private healthcare has become the only alternative for some, with the average cost of cataract surgery ranging from £3000-£4000 outside of the NHS. This highlights the urgent need for effective, affordable, and sustainable surgical methods.

Adam Sampson, CEO of The Association of Optometrists, has called on government officials to establish a national eye health strategy that would allow local optometrists to alleviate some of the pressure on hospitals. Sampson has emphasised the need for urgent action, referring to the loss of sight as a “health emergency.” The implementation of a national eye health strategy would enable more individuals to access eye health services, reducing the burden on hospitals and improving overall health outcomes.

Introducing effective and affordable surgical methods is crucial to alleviating poverty and addressing the national eye health crisis in the UK. The success of the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation’s method in Nepal, Bhutan, and Ghana demonstrates that such methods are achievable, effective, and sustainable. With the urgent need to address the growing national eye health crisis, it is essential for government officials and healthcare professionals to collaborate and implement innovative and accessible surgical methods.

For more information on Tej Kohli as a philanthropist visit tejkohliruit.com and to read more of his views go to his Medium.

To read about Tej Kohli as an investor and technologist visit Kohli Ventures

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Tej Kohli

Tej Kohli is an investor & philanthropist who is the co-founder of the Tej Kohli & Ruit Foundation. To find out more visit tejkohli.com or tejkohliruit.com