The shut down of elective care and the destructive nature of the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the NHS facing the largest backlog of non-Covid care, with 5.8 million patients currently waiting for routine surgery.

Indeed, the number of patients waiting for cataract surgery – the most commonly performed surgery in the NHS – has also increased. It is projected that this pressure on cataract surgeries is to continue to increase despite plans to tackle the elective care backlog, with demand for the surgery set to rise by 50% in the next 20 years.

For a patient living with cataracts, there are significant compromises to their quality of life as independence becomes limited and they are more likely to be at risk of falls and accidents. Cataracts are a significant factor in preventable blindness and this, combined with the shorter-term risks of living with the condition, has created strains on other departments within the healthcare system. A resumption in surgeries to pre-pandemic levels should alleviate pressures created by this backlog.

Providing cataract services to much of the north-east of England, the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were deeply concerned by the extent of the backlog. To tackle the waiting list of cataract patients, the Trust decided to expand capacity through the construction of a bespoke modular facility and appointed Vanguard to deliver the solution in October 2020.

Consulting with clinical staff to understand their unique demands, Vanguard designed a bespoke standalone modular facility that would prioritise patient outcomes and facilitate the undertaking of almost double the number of procedures in comparison to volumes prior to the pandemic. The Newcastle Westgate Cataract centre has the aim to treat cataract patients across the region and includes three procedure rooms, a recovery room, and two staff wellbeing areas, alongside storage and utility rooms.

Vanguard’s prompt and efficient communication with the Trust meant that a positive and inclusive working environment was created through understanding and meeting staff needs, such as including natural lighting within the surgical wards.

The number of hospital admissions, accompanied by the increase in seasonal ailments in Autumn 2020, meant that a key priority shared by both the Trust and Vanguard was that of infection control. The cataract facility was expertly designed with a one-way system for patients, decreasing their time spent in the centre, allowing more procedures to be carried out. The streamlining of the patient experience was extremely successful and has reduced waiting times on site from an average of 3-4 hours to under an hour. This, combined with the facility’s status as a cold site away from the main hospital building, has reduced anxieties around the spread of COVID-19 infection and has protected both staff and patients throughout

Despite hindrances to the rapid delivery of the project, such as the third national lockdown imposed in January 2021 and social distancing guidelines limiting the number of individuals on site, the new centre was delivered in just seven months, with the site officially opening on 6 April 2021. Vanguard’s advanced solutions and use of Modern Methods of Construction (MMCs) accelerated the delivery of the project, ensuring that the facility was delivered on a time scale far shorter than if traditional bricks and mortar had been used.

Operational five days a week, the Newcastle Westgate Cataract Centre has already made impressive progress in tacking the backlog in cataract surgery in the north-east with between 200-250 procedures performed each week, bringing the monthly total to 1,000 operations.

Understanding the urgency of the backlog and the value of prioritising patient outcomes, Vanguard was able to use its bespoke and innovative solutions to rapidly deliver a thoughtfully designed cataract centre that accounts for the needs of clinical staff in just seven months. Transforming the lives of thousands of patients living with cataracts, the establishment of modular facilities such as this provide confidence that a solution to tackling the backlog in elective care is in sight.

To watch a short BBC clip about this facility, click the link.