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Call for National Plan for Eyecare in England

The Eyes Have It partnership calls for National Plan for Eye Care in England at Westminster event

A national group of eye health organisations is today calling on the Government to deliver a co-ordinated National Plan for Eye Care in England at Westminster Eye Health Day.

The Eyes Have It, partnership which includes the Macular Society, Fight for Sight, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth), Association of Optometrists (AOP), Royal National Institute Of Blind People (RNIB) and Roche Products Ltd.

It is urging MPs to back a nationwide programme for a more joined up approach to eye health, that supports local decision-making with national accountability, ensuring all patients can benefit from the right care, where and when they need it.

In July 2022, there were close to 644,000 patients on ophthalmology waiting lists in England[1] – almost ten percent of the entire NHS backlog and equivalent to one per cent of the population of England[2]. More than 28,000 of those patients had been waiting for longer than a year1.

The partnership has invited MPs to act urgently to support the call for a National Plan that would see primary care utilised more effectively, an expansion in the ophthalmology workforce to meet patient need, and more efficient patient pathways implemented to reduce backlogs in eye care.

The Eyes Have It is hosting Westminster Eye Health Day, funded by Roche Products Ltd, which seeks to champion and drive support for a National Plan for Eye Care among parliamentarians and policy makers. It is the second time the event has been held and is being sponsored by Marsha de Cordova, Labour MP for Battersea, who lives with sight loss and chairs a cross-Party group in Parliament focusing on eye health.

Marsha de Cordova, Labour MP, Battersea said: Those with potentially avoidable sight loss don’t have time on their side. Many do not realise that swift treatment, often within two weeks, is needed to prevent vision from deteriorating further. Even before the pandemic, ophthalmology was the busiest outpatient service in the NHS1, but it doesn’t get the recognition or investment it deserves. We need a national eye care strategy that will deliver a joined-up system so we can truly deliver for people living with sight loss.”

Patient Bryan Naylor said: “I well recall the impact of being told that I had AMD (age-related macular degeneration)[3] and would lose much or all of my central vision. I equally recall that I was told early treatment is essential. This was a very challenging time for me and my family. I have since discovered that it is a common experience. I know that we are grateful for the support of the NHS and the Macular Society, whilst facing these challenges.

However, it is clear that the challenges facing NHS ophthalmology are growing and its ability to respond in an effective and timely way to the rising demand is causing serious concern to clinicians and patients alike. For many, time is sight, delay is sight loss.

I know that all of us living with the life changing challenges of sight loss find ways to adapt. Our hope is that the decision makers will be aware of the issues facing the patients of today and those yet to come. It is vital that we take every possible step to prevent avoidable sight loss.”

Thom Renwick, Ophthalmology Lead, Roche UK: “It is critical that people experiencing sight loss are treated quickly to stop the deterioration of their sight. We strongly believe a National Plan for Eye Care will help join up services, free up capacity and speed up treatment for those who urgently need it.”

Adam Sampson, Chief Executive, AOP: “With one in every hundred patients on hospital waiting lists in England because of the current shortage of ophthalmologists1,2, it is absolutely vital a National Plan is put in place. Optometrists have a proven track record in ensuring patients can access the care and treatment they deserve and, with optical practices on every high street, are ideally placed to give patients clinical care at the time they need it.”

Keith Valentine, Chief Executive, Fight for Sight: “As waiting lists for thousands of patients get longer, the window to access services becomes slimmer. We know that between 15 and 22 patients a month will suffer severe deterioration of vision[4], including permanent sight loss as a result of delays. With earlier detection and prevention, we can break that pattern and reduce the financial impact of sight loss on the NHS.

Reducing the prevalence of eye conditions by just one percent per year could avoid costs to the UK economy of up to £3.1 billion by the end of the decade[5]. Ophthalmology needs to become a priority. It’s time to act now and fast.”

Stephen Scowcroft, Director of Services Macular Society: “Macular disease is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, mostly affecting people over the age of 50. It is a problem which is not going away and is only going to grow as our population ages. We must therefore make sure the NHS is making best use of the whole healthcare system – from opticians, to GPs, to specialists in hospitals. It is imperative that the system is joined up, so patients can get the support and treatment they need, when they need it.”

Bernie Chang, President, Royal College of Ophthalmologists: ‘Ophthalmology services are under severe pressure due to the impact of ever-increasing demand as people live longer, exacerbated by the long backlogs created by the pandemic. We need a National Plan for Eye Care to join up patient pathways across primary and secondary care and deliver proper investment in our workforce and infrastructure. This will enable us to treat patients more quickly in the appropriate setting, which is the only way to preserve our patients’ sight and prevent avoidable blindness.’

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