Lack of access to treatment creating sight loss fears
Author: Andrew McClean
A lack of access to treatment for eye conditions has created fear that people living with sight loss will experience further deterioration of their sight during the pandemic.
Of the 325 adults who responded to a Fight for Sight survey, 73% said access during the pandemic had become worse with cancelled surgeries and injections also reported.
In addition, four in 10 people said they were concerned that their eyesight has or would deteriorate further as a result of access issues and cancellations.
Sherine Krause, chief executive of Fight for Sight, said: ‘Our survey shows that people with sight loss are particularly affected by the pandemic, which is having a huge impact on their wellbeing and has the potential to cause long-term damage to their sight.
‘To address this, the government must develop a plan that addresses the immediate need of people with eye conditions, so they don’t become blind because of lockdown and social distancing measures.
‘Additionally, we’re calling on the government to urgently update its advice to retailers on social distancing measures to ensure the needs of people with poor vision are not excluded. In the longer term, we must continue to fund research for new, more efficient treatments and cures for the leading causes of blindness and sight loss, to help ease the pressure on our NHS.’
Fight for Sight has also launched an appeal on its website to help eye researchers cover the costs of delays to projects and returning to the laboratory.
A call for people to continue attending scheduled eye appointments at hospital has been made by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) after similar research found the pandemic has affected attendance rates.
According to the UK Ophthalmology Alliance, ophthalmic professionals across the UK have found that up to 50% of people with acute or urgent eye conditions had not been attending appointments because of coronavirus concerns.
The RNIB noted that patients living with conditions such as age-related macular degeneration or retinal detachments required urgent care to prevent permanent sight loss.
Helen Lee, policy and campaigns manager at the RNIB, said: ‘It is extremely concerning to hear that people are not attending appointments or seeking advice for sudden changes in their vision. The treatments being missed have the ability to stabilise conditions and keep people from losing their sight unnecessarily.
‘The precautions put in place by NHS England are there to help patients and medical staff keep safe during the ongoing pandemic. We strongly advise people to attend their appointments or to discuss any concerns they have with hospital eyecare staff. We are calling on the government to include information about eye care in the NHS Open for Business communication campaign.’
The RNIB shared stories of people affected by sight loss during the pandemic, including an 88-year-old woman who has glaucoma and had experienced a rapid decline in her sight since her last appointment at the end of March.
Another woman in her 80s who was also living with glaucoma has experienced discomfort in her affected eye and deterioration in vision. In both cases, the women thought they couldn’t contact the hospital because they believed only coronavirus patients were being seen.
The RNIB noted that provisions were currently being worked on in anticipation of eye care services reopening, with measures including fewer people attending at once and shorter consulting times.
Melanie Hingorani, consultant ophthalmologist and chair of the UK Ophthalmology Alliance, reassured patients that the risk of catching coronavirus in a hospital eye clinic was low.
‘Post lockdown, the capacity for hospital eye services will still be very limited due to our need to work differently to keep patients and staff safe. The hospitals are providing appointments to patients where the hospital feels it is most important or where the patient could be at risk of harm to their sight if they are not seen, so it is really important to attend if an appointment is offered. However, I want to reassure patients that eye units are taking every possible precaution and the risk of catching Covid-19 in an hospital eye clinic is extremely low,’ Hingorani said.