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Business & Profession Cataract, Health Economics and Policy

Outsourced Cataract Complications

National Health Service (NHS) ophthalmology clinics in the UK are having a hard time of it lately. Austerity measures and the pressures of an aging demographic fill waiting rooms to bursting point, day in, day out. For one hospital in Taunton, Somerset, the backlog of patients awaiting cataract surgery was so great that they contracted a private health services provider, Vanguard Healthcare, to help clear it. The contract was £320,000 for 400 procedures, to be performed in a mobile unit parked next to hospital’s day surgery unit. The deal was terminated after four days.

The complication rate with cataract surgery is usually very low, at 1 in 400. Unfortunately, in this case it was almost 1 in 2 – or rather, of the 62 patients treated during the time the contract was in place, thirty experienced complications. Most complained of blurred vision, pain and swelling. However, the local newspaper reports that “more than ten” experienced significant issues (1), and it appears that some may require corneal transplantation surgery to retain vision in the affected eyes (2).

Vanguard operate one of the world’s largest fleets of mobile healthcare facilities, ranging from operating theatres to accident and emergency services. The unit at Musgrove Park Hospital (MPH) was staffed by highly qualified surgeons with many years of experience working in the NHS. So why did nearly half of their cataract patients experience problems? To date, nobody has an answer to that question – Vanguard and MPH are currently investigating to establish what went wrong.

Understandably, many of those affected are now seeking compensation. Colin Close, the medical director of MPH, acknowledged compensation claims could be made and was quoted as saying, “Any financial responsibility would rest with us” (1), but the hospital now claims that Close was misquoted (2). So, will the NHS ultimately foot the bill? The UK’s Department of Health states that it will not: “Patients deserve the safest and best care and the NHS will hold this company to account if things have gone wrong, and reclaim costs on behalf of [the] patients.”

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  1. Somerset County Gazette. “Cataract patients suffer complications after private firm‘s operations at Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton”, Accessed August 29, 2014.
  2. The Guardian, “NHS faces legal bill as dozens suffer problems after private eye operations”, Accessed August 29, 2014.
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as a deputy editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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