Sandra Creasey’s life was put on hold, too, when surgery to remove cataracts was cancelled. Sandra, 81, has age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a chronic eye disorder affecting 600,000 Britons which causes blurred vision and blind spots, and began having regular injections in her eyes four years ago. When she also developed cataracts in both eyes, her vision became so bad that “I couldn’t read, could hardly even watch television and I could only recognise another person if they came right up to me,” says Creasey, who lives alone.
She was scheduled for surgery for the worst eye on March 30, but 10 days earlier, it was cancelled. Unable to drive due to her vision, lockdown was particularly hard.
“I used to go for a walk every day, but even going to the shops was tricky. I used to go to meet my 10-year-old granddaughter at the school gates, which was an important part of my day, but that stopped, too. Losing my vision so completely and especially in lockdown, made me feel very isolated and lonely.”
While her injections to treat her AMD continued, the period between appointments became more spaced out, even as her vision deteriorated. The charity Fight for Sight says 73 per cent of people with sight loss said their access to treatment had decreased during the pandemic and four out of 10 fear their sight has or will further deteriorate as a result of it.
“There is a huge personal cost to the delay in surgeries because problems like cataracts can have a massive impact on people’s lives – hugely impeding independence, livelihoods and mental health,” says chief executive Sherine Krause.
“But also, the backlog of people on waiting lists is inevitably putting additional pressure on an already overstretched NHS – and ophthalmology clinics were already the busiest of any speciality.”
Creasey managed to get surgery for one eye rescheduled, which took place in August. “My vision in that eye is now 20/20, so I’m very lucky it was just the cataracts and not the AMD. I felt I got a bit of my old life back. I could drive again and get some independence, and go and see some of my family. It’s been a huge boost.”
She doesn’t yet have an appointment for her second eye: “I’m prepared to go private, but I think they are all full with NHS appointments. I feel very lucky to have the sight that I do have back and hope that others can get their surgeries, too.”
Srikanthi Rodrigo-Candappa hopes that she too will soon have a rescheduled operation for her knee, and be able to regain some independence. But Dr Holden is less optimistic: “As Covid admissions rise again and other services are prioritised, we can expect further suspension and cancellations of operations as the NHS braces itself for a challenging winter and more misery for those with arthritis.”
‘My breast cancer surgery was cancelled’
Angela Evans, 58, a diagnostic radiographer, discovered she had breast cancer last year. She began a course of chemotherapy just before Christmas, in anticipation of an operation to remove her breast and then reconstruct it using tissue from the stomach (a procedure known as DIEP). She lives with her husband in Bolton.