THE waiting list for elective eye surgery in East Lancashire has swelled to almost double the ideal number.

The hospital which carries out all elective eye surgery for the area is struggling to keep up.

Board papers for Burnley General Hospital revealed the inpatient waiting list in the ophthalmology department was 650 at the end of January, compared to the target list size of 346.

Bosses said there was a shortage of suitably experienced doctors to cover vacant positions.

The growing backlog of East Lancashire patients, half of whom are waiting for cataract surgery, has caused the department to miss the key 18-week waiting target, resulting in a financial penalty of £2,500.

The target means at least 90 per cent of patients should start their treatment within 18 weeks of being referred, but the ophthalmology performance dropped to 87.7 per cent in January.

The department carries out all inpatient elective eye surgery for East Lancashire.

Gill Simpson, divisional general manager of the surgery and anaesthetics division at East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “The increase in the ophthalmology waiting list is due to a shortage of suitably experienced doctors to cover vacant positions. This is despite significant efforts by the recruitment team to find suitable staff.

“Over recent years ophthalmologists have specialised in certain areas, for example children’s surgery, glaucoma or diabetes.

“The current waiting list has a percentage of patients who require the specialist surgical skills of one of our consultants. We have recently secured some additional theatre time for this consultant.

“We have also put in place a plan to increase the total number of theatre sessions for all our other consultants so we can reduce the number of patients waiting.”

Last month, the Lancashire Telegraph revealed hospital bosses were bidding for £10 million of government funding for a purpose-built ophthalmology unit on the Burnley site.