Optical Express has criticised a Radio 4 Inside Health report into the multiple’s cataract surgery practises as having ‘numerous factual inaccuracies.’

In a statement sent to Optician, the multiple’s clinical services director, Stephen Hannan, said the company is ‘deeply disappointed’ by the BBC’s approach and branded the story as ‘sensationalising fake news.’

Inside Health, which was broadcast on March 3, claimed that practitioners at Optical Express are using ‘hard sell’ methods to convince patients to use its cataract surgery services.

It spoke to two patients who had been recommended to have cataract surgery after visiting the multiple for a sight test.

A patient from Manchester was surprised to be told that he had cataracts as he had not experienced any difficulty with his vision in day-to-day life.

He explained to the BBC that Optical Express phoned him several times to ask why he hadn’t confirmed to have surgery. He also received consent forms and details about finance plans from the multiple.

After feeling unsure about his diagnosis and hesitating about the cost of the procedure, he sought a second opinion and was told the cataract in his right eye would be graded as ‘one out of 10’ and even less for the left eye.

A second patient, this time from Glasgow, who had a pre-existing retinal condition, was told that she needed surgery in both eyes. She decided to have surgery in one eye and later suffered from a detached retina.

Due to the complications experienced, the patient decided to visit a different optometrist who on examination told her that her lens was clear. Another optometrist at the practice also confirmed that there was no cataract present.

Inside Health also found that in 2018, Optical Express offered practitioners incentives, such as prize draws, when patients booked in for cataract surgery.

Hannan shared that Optical Express ‘completely refutes’ the suggestion that its optometrists have encouraged patients to have unnecessary surgery.

‘Cataracts get worse over time and the impact they have on a patient’s quality of life increases with age. The point at which a cataract causes a patient’s vision to deteriorate to such a degree that it affects their quality of life, will be different for every patient,’ he explained.

Speaking about the cases discussed on Radio 4, Hannan said: ‘Both patients featured were recommended to have surgery following the diagnosis of cataracts. One of the patients went ahead with surgery, but now believes it may not have been necessary. We absolutely refute this. The other patient chose not to go ahead with any treatment at Optical Express, based on the price of private cataract surgery.’

‘I have reviewed the case histories of these patients and I have full confidence in the clinical colleagues who examined, advised and decided on a recommendation for treatment for them and we welcome an unbiased opinion on this rather than a sensationalising “fake news” story by the BBC,’ he added.

Optical Express said that it informed the BBC ahead of broadcast that their information was inaccurate and highlighted that 99% of patients treated would recommend the multiple to family and friends.

Mike Burden, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, provided comment to the BBC during the Inside Health programme about how common this situation is.

Drawing on his own experiences of speaking to patients who have been diagnosed with cataracts, he said: ‘From time to time, recently, I have had patients say to me, “I went for my routine check up, I was diagnosed with having cataract and I find myself being referred to this hospital or this centre to have treatment and I’m just not quite sure what happened because I don’t think that I have a problem”.’

Burden added that the two patients he had spoken to had waited to have surgery and decided to come back when they thought they had a problem with their vision.

When asked about the Optical Express patients, Burden said that the situation needs ‘a proper discussion with the company involved’ to give them the opportunity to justify themselves and added: ‘I think it does need looking at.’

Hannan explained that the multiple’s ophthalmic surgeons and specialist refractive optometrist are among the most experienced experts in the field of cataract and refractive surgery. He said that clinicians have access to the latest equipment and provide expert clinical care and advice that lead to ‘exceptional high-quality outcomes’ for patients.

Speaking about Optical Express’ service, he said: ‘We are totally committed to giving our patients excellent care and their best possible outcomes. Therefore, it is extremely disappointing that the BBC have chosen to interview only two patients who claim to be unhappy with their experience, out of over one million patients our surgeons have treated and over one million patients who we have refused to treat, based on our extremely conservative clinical parameters and their clinical suitability, after attending a cataract or refractive surgery consultation.

‘There were numerous factual inaccuracies in the programme broadcast by the BBC, and we were deeply disappointed by the approach taken by the programme-makers. Particularly as we informed them ahead of the programme being broadcast that their information was inaccurate.’

Highlighting Optical Express’ procedures, Hannan explained that all patients are seen by a multi-disciplinary team of expert ophthalmic surgeons and specialist refractive optometrists.

‘Every patient goes through a detailed and comprehensive informed consent process, which includes information and discussion about potential risks, benefits and alternative treatments. Some patients make an informed choice to proceed with surgery, others choose not to. We respect all our patients' decisions. The consent process enables each patient to have multiple consultations, to include those with their optometrist and with their treating surgeon prior to their procedure.’

The multiple also stated that outcome data suggests that its cataract surgery is safer and more effective than the same procedure performed under the NHS.

Speaking about the data, Hannan explained: ‘Optical Express compares outcome data of patients we perform cataract surgery on against published NHS reports. In this regard, surgery at Optical Express is evidenced to be both safer and more effective in its outcome delivery across a wide range of important categories than that identical procedure performed under the NHS.

Optician: This story has been amended at the request of Sam Begum, who gave an account of her experiences at Optical Express' Glasgow practice to Inside Health. Optician would like to clarify that cost was not a factor in her decision to have surgery on only one of her eyes. Optician apologises for any confusion caused.