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A gamble with eyesight-saving services” – Swansea eye surgeon’s Brexit warning

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Heledd Wilshaw

Sight-saving cataract surgery in Wales would be at risk from Brexit because the lenses needed are supplied from Ireland, via Belgium, an NHS eye surgeon in Swansea has warned.


Dr Gwyn Williams, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Singleton Hospital in Swansea, recently visited the company manufacturing this highly specialist equipment. They warned him that prices would go up and supply would be at risk due to the extra paperwork and costs involved if the UK leaves the EU single market.


Dr Williams described this prospect as “a gamble with vital NHS sight-saving services”.


His warning echoes the words of the British Medical Association, which represents doctors across the UK, and which recently spoke out about the “devastating impact a no-deal Brexit could have” on the NHS.


• Dr Williams (right) with Dr Luke Anderson, during their recent visit to the specialist lens factory in Ireland, which supplies around a third of the lenses used in cataract surgery in the UK


Dr Gwyn Williams, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at Singleton Hospital, Swansea, said:


“Both myself and consultant colleague Luke Anderson have just visited an intraocular lens plant in Cork, Ireland, that supplies Swansea and indeed much of Wales with lenses that make cataract surgery possible.


The company also makes phacoemulsification machines that are vital in removing cataracts and restoring sight.


At a tour of the facility the staff told us that they supply around a third of the UK market, via Belgium, tariff free. In the event of a no deal Brexit the price of lenses would rise ‘substantially’ they said, and supply would be at risk.


They cannot quantify exactly by how much prices would rise and how much exactly supply would be affected because nobody knows the details and that is exactly the point.”



Dr Williams spelled out what this uncertainty and disruption would mean for patients:


“The waiting list for cataract surgery in Wales is rising anyway and pretty much everyone would know someone who is waiting for or has had cataract surgery.


Why would we needlessly jeopardise our ability to perform cataract surgery here in Wales by undergoing a no deal Brexit?


Why would we risk a substantial increase in the waiting list? The risk is high but more importantly entirely unquantifiable.


We should not gamble with vital NHS sight saving services like this.” 


dr telling crowd of dangers of Brexit
Dr Gwyn Williams telling the crowd at a recent rally at Swansea Guildhall about his concerns over what Brexit could mean for his patients


Dr Williams’ warning comes shortly after the British Medical Association, representing thousands of doctors across the UK, was equally stark in its analysis of the impact of Brexit on the NHS.


Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, responding to the release of the government’s Operation Yellowhammer document, setting out planning for a no-deal Brexit, said:


“This alarming document reinforces the BMA’s stark warnings about the devastating impact a ‘no deal’ Brexit could have and vindicates those doctors who have had the courage to speak out on the risks that crashing out of the EU without a deal poses to the NHS, patients and the wider health of the UK.


“Here we see in black and white the Government warning of disruption to vital medicine supplies, a higher risk of disease outbreaks due to veterinary medicine supply issues, and UK pensioners in the EU being unable to access healthcare from 1 November if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit.


“Given what’s at stake, this document underlines why the Government needs to entirely rule out ‘no deal’ and give the public a final say on Brexit.”


A spokesperson for Swansea for Europe said:


“This is the cold hard reality of Brexit: people’s eyesight possibly at risk because doctors can’t guarantee they can get the lenses they need to treat them.


Many people voted to leave the EU because they were worried about the NHS.  The stark truth is that Brexit would be a disaster for the NHS – here in Swansea and across the UK.


The government should listen to doctors before it’s too late.”