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Tackle continuing eye care crisis now, royal college urges Hunt

Delayed and cancelled appointments caused by insufficient capacity leading to needless blindness

Caroline White

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

The continuing crisis in eye care provision must be tackled now if services are to cope with current demand, let alone future need as a result of an increasingly ageing population, says the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth).

It is calling on health and social care secretary Jeremy Hunt to implement the 16 recommendations made in a report* published last week by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment as a matter of urgency.

There are around seven million eye care outpatients every year, but delays and cancellations, caused by insufficient capacity, are leading to needless blindness, it warns.

The recommendations must be implemented at a national strategic level, fully integrated and appropriately funded, to ensure that the nation has an eye health service that delivers timely, high quality care appropriate for the UK’s growing elderly population, it insists.

The College estimates that demand for eye services will rise by 50 per cent over the next 20 years.

The report’s recommendations, which range from providing staff with more extensive training to setting national targets, urge the health and social care secretary to include eye health specifically within the NHS England mandate to ensure it's accorded a higher priority.

They also require that NHS England review and report publicly on how eye care capacity issues are addressed in local Sustainability and Transformation partnerships (STP) and how these relate to current and predicted need.

Mr Mike Burdon, RCOphth president said: “The only disappointing aspect of this report is that it has been necessary to produce it at all. Failure to stop the continuing crisis in eye care is no longer an option. This crisis is not new and has been discussed at a national level many times in the past.”

At the launch of the report last week, he recalled the problems caused the by capacity issues at the Bristol Eye Hospital in 2003 when it emerged that 25 patients had lost their sight as a result of delayed follow-up in the previous two years, when more than 1,000 appointments a month were being cancelled and some patients had waited 20 months longer than the planned date for their appointment.

“The fundamental reason why we have arrived at the current huge mismatch between demand and capacity in eye care is a long-term lack of strategic planning of eye services at both local and national levels. There are, I am sure many reasons for this but, to my mind, the most disappointing one I have heard is that eye diseases are not high enough up the political agenda,” he added.

The APPG inquiry aimed to identify how best to help improve the commissioning and planning of eye care services in England to increase capacity, to avoid needless sight loss.

Evidence was taken from 557 patients and 112 organisations, including clinicians, eye care departments, commissioners, health industry organisations, the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and Public Health England.

Professor Steve Vernon, RCOphth vice president commented: “This report includes personal testimony from people directly affected by the lack of capacity within eye care services, and it is entirely right that they are central to why we are asking for recognition of the crisis. But it is also the patients’ clinician that is working under extreme pressures.”

He continued: “I have personally experienced, on many occasions, my ability to deliver high quality care being compromised by a system that is overwhelmed and which causes potential or actual loss of vision, and I am not alone. This is devastating for patients and soul destroying for clinicians.”

RCOphth is now asking for MPs, patients and carers to put pressure on the Department of Health and Social Care to tackle the crisis and to take a personal interest in the views of ophthalmic healthcare professionals and patients.

*See the light: Improving capacity in NHS eye care in England. A report prepared by All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment, June 2018.

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