Mary Crompton, 78, from Heysham, has been partially-sighted since she was a baby, after an accident left her with no vision in her right eye.
She began noticing issues with her left eye whilst birdwatching, noting that the colours were muted and she could see two birds when there was only one.
Following a visit to her local optician in Morecambe, Mary was diagnosed with cataracts and referred for surgery.
Having heard her friends talk about their positive experiences with SpaMedica - a UK-leading provider of NHS cataract treatment - Mary asked to be referred to its nearest hospital in Preston.
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The average NHS waiting time from referral to surgery is reported at 30 weeks for Mary’s local hospital and SpaMedica, who provide NHS cataract surgery to patients across England, was able to offer Mary an appointment at their Spamedica Preston hospital within six weeks.
Mary, a former weaver for a workshop she owned in Weardale, keeps busy during her retirement by catching up with her two sons and two grandsons, reading, and birdwatching, saying: “I like colour and I could tell it had faded. My hobbies require attention to detail and the difference in my vision now is marvellous - I’m really delighted with it.
“The surgery was more of a risk for me as I don’t have any sight in my right eye. If something went wrong, I’d be blind - it’s definitely something you think about. The surgeon realised this and he was very kind and explained how the procedure would work - I felt very confident going into it.”
Mary took advantage of SpaMedica’s free transport service – an initiative developed by the company to provide NHS patients with a free home-to-hospital support service.
She said: “I was picked up right at my door and taken to the hospital. I’ve never been able to drive because of my poor vision and my husband doesn’t like driving long distances anymore. It would have been very difficult to get to the hospital without SpaMedica’s free transport service.
“The driver made sure we were isolated from each other. We wore masks, had temperature checked and there was sanitiser available. I think SpaMedica has handled the challenges of Covid very well.”
SpaMedica has been providing a free patient bus service since 2010. The bus service can accommodate up to four patients on each trip and has seen more than 1,000 patients transported to and from their appointments each month.
Describing her cataract surgery, Mary said: “It wasn’t bad at all. It’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t last for long. It’s a quick procedure and I could tell straight away that my vision was ok.
“I was welcomed by friendly staff who made a joke or two and that made me feel at ease. One of the ladies that was also on the minibus was anxious, but I wasn’t nervous at all - I was ready to have the surgery and I was pleased to be having it.”
Dave Martin, a SpaMedica bus driver from St Annes, was formerly a care home support worker for people with learning and physical difficulties, and conditions such as dementia.
He said: “I love chatting, so it’s great for me. I can get to know the patients and put them at ease or distract them if they’re a bit nervous about the procedure. We’re helping people from all walks of life, from those with dementia who are vulnerable to patients in their seventies and eighties who could run rings around me.
“It’s rewarding because you know you’re making a difference to people that wouldn’t be able to access the treatment they need without the service.
"I had one patient who was extremely anxious and disliked motorways, so we did the entire journey only on A roads. Even the ones that are nervous, afterwards they always say to me ‘that’s nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be’.
"I can cover around 500 miles per day. Some days it’s like going on a trip with friends, the patients on the bus will gel and get along like a house on fire.”
SpaMedica supports thousands of patients across the region and is dedicated to delivering the highest quality care, whilst reducing NHS cataract surgery waiting times, with appointments available within four weeks.
Since Mary had her treatment, SpaMedica has opened another eye hospital in July in Kendal.
Leanne Durante, regional manager for the north west, said: We launched our free bus service because we knew patients would benefit from it - whether they’re vulnerable, live in rural locations with limited public transports links, or are travelling from further afield to reach us, plus the service is the first step in reducing stress on the day of surgery.
“It’s fantastic to hear of Mary’s positive experience at our Preston hospital. We know there are waiting times currently in some regions of over a year from referral to surgery for cataracts, and we’re proud to support the NHS to reduce this backlog.
“Our team of eyecare specialists work hard to ensure all of our patients, like Mary, feel welcome and calm before going in for their appointment, and it’s lovely to hear her feedback that the procedure was straightforward and managed to safeguard her remaining sight.
“We’re also delighted to announce that we’ll be opening our Kendal hospital later this month, where our NHS patient bus service will be vital, to allow more patients to access treatment quickly and help them get back to doing the things they love.”
SpaMedica has more than 30 hospitals across England, with thousands of NHS patients being treated every month.
More than 99 per cent of patients say they would recommend SpaMedica to friends and family, and Mary is no exception, saying: “I’ve already recommended SpaMedica to my sister who has now had the surgery in both of her eyes. I’d definitely recommended it to anyone.”
Cataracts are common in adults - about 30 per cent 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.
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.
To find out more click here.