Find out what to expect from private cataract surgery, including costs, the procedure, recovery and aftercare.
Cataract surgery is the most common elective procedure in the UK, which people often choose to pay for themselves with health insurance or on a ‘self-pay’ basis. Find out what you can expect from private treatment, including what happens during the procedure, how much it costs, and local healthcare providers near you.
What is a cataract and how is it treated?
If you have a cataract, it means the lens of one or both eyes has become cloudy or misty. Cataracts can affect your ability to watch TV, read, write or drive .
Cataract surgery is considered the only effective treatment for cataracts. Surgery can improve quality of life, reduce glare and improve depth perception. It is one of the most successful operations to improve the quality of one’s life.
Cataract surgery: NHS and private options
Cataract surgery is available on the NHS. However, the waiting time for surgery can be variable and you can not usually choose your surgeon. The NHS typically offers a monofocal lens, which has a single point of focus. This means it may be more likely that you’ll need glasses after your surgery.
Private cataract surgery could be an appropriate choice if your cataracts aren’t severe enough for an operation on the NHS, but they affect your quality of life. You’ll usually have the choice of multifocal of various types depending on your needs. This can help improve your short or long-sightedness and reduce the need for glasses after surgery.
What happens during cataract surgery?
Cataract surgery involves removing the lens of your eye and replacing it with an artificial one. Your eye, or eyes, will be tested before surgery to choose the strength of the artificial lens implant.
The surgery typically takes less than 15 minutes and you should be able to go home on the same day.
Cataract surgery is commonly performed under local anaesthetic, which means that you will be awake during the procedure, although some patients may need sedation or general anaesthetic. You’ll need to be able to lie flat and still throughout the procedure, so let your surgeon know if this could be difficult for you.
Before surgery drops or a small pellet will be placed to widen your pupils and relax the muscles. You will be given a local anesthetic either drops or an injection, or a combination of both. Your eye may burn or sting for a few seconds, but this should quickly pass. During surgery local anaesthetic may also be injected in the eye.
The most common type of cataract surgery in the UK is phacoemulsification, or ‘phaco’. The surgeon makes a small cut in your cornea and uses ultrasound to break up and remove the cloudy lens. Your new artificial lens is inserted in the space left behind by your old lens.
How to prepare for cataract surgery
There are a few things you can do to prepare for your cataract surgery and help your recovery:
- Tell your doctor about any medication you are taking, and follow their advice in the lead up to your surgery.
- Arrange for a family member or friend to take you home after your operation.
Cataract surgery complications and risks
As with any operation, there are always risks to take into account. Cataract surgery is generally very successful, however, there are some risks and complications that your doctor will discuss with you such as blurred vision or some loss of vision.
Complications that could occur after the operation include:
- Incorrect lens strength inserted
- Cloudiness in the eye
- Severe or permanent loss of vision – the chance of this occurring is less than 1 in 1,000 cases
It’s possible to remedy most of the complications and you may require further treatment.
Cataract surgery recovery and aftercare
As cataract surgery is usually performed as a day case, you will be able to go home on the same day. You should arrange for someone to take you home.
You’ll be given eye drops after surgery to keep your eye clean and help reduce inflammation. You may also need to wear a shield over your eye at night to prevent you from accidentally rubbing your eye. You may be asked to wear this for 7 days.
It’s usual to feel some discomfort in your eye as the anaesthetic wears off, but this can be helped with over-the-counter painkillers.
Vision and glasses
It may take a few days or a few weeks for your vision to clear after cataract surgery. Afterwards your eyes might be watery and red, and it might feel like you have something in your eye. You should contact your doctor if these symptoms get worse.
You may still need glasses after cataract surgery, however it’s unlikely that you can still wear your old glasses. After about 4 weeks you should be able to visit your optician to choose new glasses.
Getting back to normal after cataract surgery
You should be able to resume your usual activities 2-3 days after your cataract surgery , but avoid anything too strenuous or potential activities that might irritate your eye, such as cooking. Once your eye has fully healed, your vision should be clearer and brighter. It’s best to discuss with your doctor about h how much time you will need off work and when you can exercise again.
Driving after cataract surgery
You are able to drive as soon as your vision meets the DVLA standard. For example, if you are able to read a car number plate from 20 metres. This could be the next day, or until you’re measured for new glasses at around 4 weeks.
Before you start driving again, you should be free of distracting pain, irritations, or effects from pain medication. You should contact the DVLA if you are unsure.
Cost of private cataract surgery
Private cataract surgery is often covered by private medical insurance. However, you should check your policy and speak to your insurer to see if there are any extra costs you might be liable for.
You can pay for cataract surgery yourself as a ‘self-pay’ patient. Typically, an initial consultation with the surgeon will cost between £160 and £250, depending on where you live.
If you decide to have the procedure, you’ll be offered one of the following:
- An all-inclusive ‘package price’, where you’ll know the full costs before undergoing treatment. Not all consultants and hospitals offer this. . The cost can very depending on the “add-ons” such as multifocal lenses or astigmatism correction.
- A ‘fee-per-service’ deal, where you receive different invoices from the surgeon, the anaesthetist and the hospital. You often won’t know the full costs until you receive the invoices.
For more information, you an read our guide on self-pay.
- Commissioning Guide: Adult Cataract Surgery. Royal College of Ophthalmologists. www.rcophth.ac.uk, last updated January 2018.
- Cataract Surgery. NHS. NHS.net, last reviewed February 2021.
- Get Well Soon. Royal College of Surgeons. www.rcseng.ac.uk.
- Cataracts in Adults. National institute for Health and Care Excellence. www.nice.org.uk, last updated October 2017.