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Ophthalmologist Shortage, Increasing Demands and the Impact of Covid-19


In 2018 there were approximately 1500 ophthalmology consultants in the UK¹. There was an anticipated shortage of 230 consultants by 2020¹. The annual training output of 74 consultants was considered to be “nowhere near”¹ sufficient as a quarter of existing consultants approach retirement¹.

As the ranks of clinicians dwindles, ophthalmology referrals have increased by 12% over the four years leading up to 2018². By the end of 2019 only 83% of ophthalmology patients were starting treatment within the 18 week target³; 445,000 were waiting for their ophthalmic treatment³.

Due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic; all non urgent elective operations were cancelled in the NHS on April 15 for a minimum of three months. In this time 100,000 cataract operations would ordinarily be completed

The Covid-19 pandemic has swollen existing waiting lists. It will also stifle attempts to reduce them. New precautions will cause slower workflows and reduced capacity. It may be difficult for the NHS to keep up with new referrals before even considering significantly eroding the waiting list. 

Eyesight will however remain integral to daily life, employment, and mental health. As the NHS struggles to meet demand, patients may turn to private sector providers.



¹ The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (2016). Workforce Census. p.4. [Accessed 05/2020]
² NHS Elective Care Transformation Programme (2019). Transforming elective care services: Ophthalmology. p.6. [Accessed 05/2020]
³ NHS England and NHS Improvement (2020). NHS referral to treatment (RTT) waiting times data December 2019. p.5. [Accessed 05/2020]
Reuters. UK health service to cancel all routine surgery. [Accessed 05/2020]
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (2016). The Way Forward (Cataract). p.2. [Accessed 05/2020]
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (2020). Reopening and redeveloping ophthalmology services during Covid recovery – Interim guidance. P.3. [Accessed 05/2020]
Royal National Institute for the Blind (2020). Sight Loss: What we needed to know. p.7. [Accessed 05/20]



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Ophthalmologist Shortage, Increasing Demands and the Impact of Covid-19
24 May 2020