£4million ‘space-age’ operating theater will help reduce eye surgery backlog
Eye surgeons at Singleton Hospital who continue to work through a backlog of operations can now do so in a new dedicated ‘space age’ theatre.
The £4million facility, part of the day surgery unit opposite the main Sketty Lane hospital site, has started treating its first patients but is not yet operating at full capacity.
The high-tech facility has earned praise from surgeons.
Main photo above: Consultant ophthalmologist Gwyn Williams at work in the new theater
However, it is seen as an interim measure to help tackle long waiting lists while Swansea Bay and its partners, including the Hywel Dda University Health Board, look for better ways to deliver regional services together.
This is in line with recommendations from an external review of eye care services in Wales, commissioned by the Welsh Government and conducted by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
The Pyott report, published in 2021, found there was much to be commended. But it also highlighted issues such as a lack of long-term investment, labor shortages and the localization of services.
Swansea Bay, like many other parts of Wales, had long waiting times for specialties, including ophthalmology, even before Covid – but the pandemic has made them significantly worse.
As a result, the health board has embarked on an ambitious program called Change for the futurewhich will see health services delivered in a new and more efficient way.
Part of the program includes the creation of a series of Centers of Excellence at major hospitals in the health board.
Dougie Russell, Medical Director of Singleton and Neath Port Talbot Hospitals (left) and Theater Matron Rhian Medwell and Day Surgery Unit Director Dorina Stanciu check out the new theater before it is outfitted. Also pictured are Jonathan Brinley, second from left, and Nick Edgington of building builder ModuleCo.
Singleton will become a center of excellence for several specialties, including ophthalmology which is already established there.
The health board has invested £3.3million in the operating theater building, with an additional £700,000 for new equipment.
Consultant eye doctor Gwyn Williams, the first surgeon to use the new theatre, said it was developed specifically for cataract surgery.
“The current expectation is not great but at least it is now starting to decrease,” he said.
“At the moment the health board contracts out many of these to private companies in various locations.
“Having the new theater means we will be able to clear the backlog and do it within the NHS as opposed to the private sector.
“While we need a better long-term solution, this is a good interim solution.”
Swansea Bay has around 2,200 people waiting for eye surgery. Around 1,000 of them waited longer than the 36-week target
In addition, about 2,000 cataract patients wait more than 26 weeks to be seen on an outpatient basis, and about 80% of them are likely to need surgery.
Although this is an improvement over last year, the statistics clearly demonstrate why the new theater is essential.
Mr Williams said the additional facility would help reduce the backlog as quickly as possible.
“This will provide additional capacity for new consultants appointed specifically to do cataract surgery and for senior trainees to undertake operations,” he said.
“Without this new theater there would have been no space to work in, so it would have been impossible to deal with the backlog of cataract patients within the NHS at all.”
The building was fabricated offsite while preparatory work took place outside the day surgery unit. It was faster than a conventional build and with less disruption to services.
It was then set up by a crane and integrated into the existing operating theaters before being equipped.
Mr Williams admitted he was impressed with the new facility, describing it as top notch.
“It’s like a cathedral for ophthalmology in a way. It’s big and shiny with all the latest amenities. Everything is new,” he said.
“I have never been in a more spatial theater in my entire life. This is probably the best theater we have in Wales for eye care.
Jo Williams, division head for ophthalmology, said additional theatre, nursing, medical and support staff were being recruited.
“The theater will provide approximately 200 additional ophthalmology cases per month when fully operational” she added.
“In the longer term, we hope to be able to start doing evening and weekend sessions to meet the needs of the local population in ophthalmological surgery.”
And it’s a taste of what’s to come. Swansea Bay has confirmed plans to introduce six new theatres, split equally between Singleton and Neath Port Talbot Hospitals as part of Change for the Future.
This will reduce wait times in other specialties.