Time to legislate for refractive eye surgery - John McDonnell, MP
This is an article I did for Politics First which details my ongoing campaign for eye surgery regulation.
It is thought that between 100,000 and 120,000 people a year undertake refractive eye surgery (most commonly laser eye) in this country. Often pressured into making a decision without full knowledge of the risks involved, thousands of people each year suffer debilitating side effects as a result. In support of Sasha Rodoy’s “My Beautiful Eyes” campaign, and with the backing of a number of Parliamentary colleagues from across the House, I am seeking to ensure that legislation is introduced urgently so that basic standards are adhered to in order to prevent people’s eyesight being put at risk.
Corporate malpractice is endemic in the industry. Salespeople, sometimes described as counsellors or refractive technicians despite minimal or no training in what the surgery involves, are pressured by management to cajole prospective patients into making a snap decision based on a time-limited discount or entry into a free completion. A 10-page training document from a leading high street practitioner leaked to the press details how staff are directed to “take control” of potential customers by “look[ing] for a ‘nugget’ – something personal that you can share with them or that they can share with you”. To quote an employee of a major high street firm who approached our office: “The patient really comes at the last of the list of priorities”.
Similarly, low standards all too often characterise the operative process. Pre-clinical appointments which should, according to the proposed guidelines provided by The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, be available to all patients and conducted with the surgeon present are, in reality, often undertaken by unsuitably qualified optometrists and sometimes with completely unqualified sales councillors. Meanwhile, complications during surgery are all too common and often unreported.
Shocking numbers of patients having approached my office citing circumstances in which jobs have been lost and livelihoods affected as a result of irreparable eye damage at the hands of leading high-street brands. Despite that, there is currently no legal requirement for a surgeon to be qualified or experienced in this field of surgery. A voluntary certificate issued by The Royal College of Ophthalmologists is held by only half of those practising in the field, and, worryingly, even the uptake of this qualification is on a downward trend with fewer surgeons taking the exam each year. Given that there is reportedly no limit on the number of procedures a surgeon can undertake, far too many patients are not afforded the time required.
Where patients have been left with severe post-operative complications, many have found it extremely difficult to secure aftercare from companies. Often left no other option but to resort to the law, patients are then forced to sign compromise agreements including gagging clauses so that they do not expose what has happened to them.
Working alongside The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, we are seeking to ensure high standards of service, openness, transparency, accountability and a proper sense of care for patients in the long-term. Our demands are comprehensive and clear.
Firstly, at minimum, all surgeons must be qualified, certificated and have regular competence assessments from here on in. Secondly, there should be openness and transparency so that the success rates of individual surgeons and clinics can be published. Thirdly, the Government should consider limiting the number of operations that surgeons can undertake in one day. Fourthly, we should ensure that high-pressure sales techniques are made illegal in this area. There should be a legal requirement for companies and surgeons to provide full information, in a comprehensible form, on all risks to patients. Fifthly, there should also be heavier sanctions for breaches of advertising standards and mis-selling by companies, because the result of their actions is to expose people to serious health risks. Sixthly, there should be a seven-day breathing space, enforceable in law, between the initial decision and final consent. Seventhly, there should also be guaranteed aftercare and, if things go wrong, remedial action at the expense of the company, not the individual. Finally, there should be a compensation scheme – the mechanism for securing compensation for individuals who suffer loss and damage as a result of such actions should be swifter and less litigious.
Discussions with both the Department for Health and the Royal College of Surgeons are underway as how to ensure effective regulation of refractive eye surgery is included under the proposed new body which has been set up to cover all areas of cosmetic surgery - the Inter-Speciality Committee.