NHS Eye Care Waits Raises Fears of Avoidable Blindness

NHS Eye Care Waits Raises Fears of Avoidable Blindness

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    A consultant has said that a “tide of avoidable blindness” could sweep Wales if eye care services are not reformed. Gwyn Williams, of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said waits for key treatments were “the biggest they’ve ever been”.

    This comes as Patients have complained that their sight has worsened while waiting longer than usual for injections. For instance, a lady, Loveday Williams has been waiting 11 weeks for treatment but she used to receive her injections at four-week intervals

    The Welsh Health Minister Eluned Morgan said she “puts her head in her hands” every night over the state of the Welsh NHS. She also added that she was trying to “get things back on track” and “keep focused”.

    The Welsh government on the other hand said that with new mobile theatres and community clinics, access to eye care was being improved.

    According to Mr Williams, the main areas of ophthalmology with “harmful delays” in Wales were macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic eye disease.

    Latest data shows that over 50% of the planned 133,000 appointments for the highest risk eye patients were significantly overdue.

    NHS Eye Care Waits Raises Fears of Avoidable Blindness

    Comments by some NHS patients

    • NHS eye care waits ‘forced me to stop driving’
    • ‘I’m blind in one eye after cancelled appointments’

    Macular degeneration affects the middle part of people’s vision and if left untreated gets worse.

    Loveday Williams, 90, from Neyland, Pembrokeshire, who has received regular injections to manage her macular degeneration condition for the last 20 years said; “Your eyesight just gets poorer and poorer.” 

    Previously, she had received her injections at four- or six-weeks intervals but due to the delays, the latest one which is due this week has taken 11 weeks.

    “Looking at things, the TV especially… you notice you have to get closer and closer, my knees are nearly touching the table” she said.

    She is terrified with the thought of not seeing as she noted that the treatment was the difference between seeing and not seeing.

    For Neil Chandley, 81, from St Florence in Pembrokeshire, his treatment intervals have increased from every four weeks to 17 weeks. Injections were initially every four weeks, then at six-week intervals but, over the last year, he has had waits of 12 and 17 weeks.

    According to him, his vision is good for “up to about six weeks” after the injections and then it begins to decline.

    “It’s going to take longer each time to restabilise the eye because of the gaps between injections. And it will tend to accelerate the fact that you will lose the sight of that eye if it’s not done on a regular basis,” he said.

    Mr Chandley said losing his sight was a “constant worry” as he loved reading, gardening and going for walks.

    Andrew Carruthers, from Hywel Dda University Health Board, who is responsible for Ms. Williams and Mr. Chandley’s care, said there had been “significant demand” in its macular degeneration service as a result of new referrals as well as the impact of Covid which caused a disruption of services and staffing and has led to a backlog of demand.

    “We are working with clinical experts and operational teams to try to reduce the backlog as soon as is practicably possible,” he said.

    Why Is There A Long Wait?

    Mr. Williams believes that Wales does not have enough consultant ophthalmologists and must reform the system as recruitment was difficult.

    This will include training non-medical practitioners so that they can do the work of doctors such as giving injections, reviewing patients after injections, and preparing people for cataract surgery. He also wants the role of optometrists to be expanded and called for the establishment of three eye care centres of excellence in Wales.

    In an interview, the health minister said the Welsh government had been asking consultants to prioritise patients to make sure that those who have the urgent cases are seen in the fastest way possible.

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