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Frimley Park Hospital is the first NHS hospital in the country to use the latest laser surgery technology as its first line treatment for cataracts.

Around 2,400 cataract operations will be carried out on patients every year using Frimley Park Hospital’s new femtosecond laser. That equates to 80% of all cataract removals at the hospital.

The laser uses tiny bursts of energy to carry out extremely accurate micro-surgery without the need for knives, needles or general anaesthetics. The laser cuts a precise circular opening in the lens capsule and divides the cataract into small pieces. The second half of the cataract operation with cataract fragment removal and intraocular lens implantation is carried out by the surgeon in the usual way in the operating theatre.

Eye surgeon Thomas Poole says the precision of the laser will result in better outcomes for patients and reduce the risk of complications. It will also mean faster surgery, so the hospital will be able to treat more patients.

“We really believe this is the future of cataract surgery and I’m delighted that we are able to offer it to the great majority of our NHS patients at Frimley,” he said.

The first patient to be treated with the new technology at Frimley was Mrs Freda Thomson, from Alton, while Mr Poole’s colleagues observed the procedure.

Cataracts are the most common cause of vision loss in people over 40. They develop when the eye's natural lens clouds over. Cataracts are getting more prevalent as people live longer and demand for cataract surgery has soared. Cataract replacement is currently the most common type of surgery carried out in the UK.

Conventional surgery involves making a small incision in the eye to break up and remove the clouded lens followed by replacement with a clear plastic one.

The Bausch and Lomb Victus Femtosecond laser machine at Frimley Park uses extremely short pulses of light to carry out the same procedure to a much higher degree of precision. The patient is put in place and the machine then scans the eye to assess exactly how to proceed. The surgeon oversees the procedure while the machine takes over. The result is much quicker and neater surgery and the risk of complications is reduced.

Femtosecond lasers have been used in selected private hospitals for eye surgery for a few years. A small number of other NHS hospitals are using a femtosecond laser on a research basis or for selected cataract and corneal procedures. But Frimley Park is believed to be the first hospital in the country to use it as the front-line treatment for cataracts in the NHS. It will also be used in corneal graft surgery and other specialist operations, and can be used at the time of cataract surgery to correct astigmatism, reducing the need for distance glasses.

“We are really excited about being able to use this technology to offer our patients great outcomes, especially for such a common procedure,” added Mr Poole.

About 3,000 cataract operations are carried out each year at the Frimley Park Hospital, 20% of which will not be suitable for laser surgery for various reasons. For example not all patients' pupils will dilate enough for the laser to reach the lens.