Glaucoma, Isolation and Kindness: the role opthamologists play in creating a brighter world

  • 11 Mar 2021
  • Professor Peter Shah

We asked Professor Peter Shah (BSc (Hons), MB ChB, FRCOphth, FRCP Edin, MA (Distinction), Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) NHS Foundation Trust, Birmingham Institute for Glaucoma Research, Institute of Translational Medicine, UHB. Visiting Professor at University College London, Honorary Professor of Glaucoma, Centre for Health & Social Care Improvement, University of Wolverhampton and President of the UK and Eire Glaucoma Society, to write a piece for the college for World Glaucoma Week.

His reflections on this year’s theme The world is bright, save your sight!, highlight the need for ophthalmologists to support patients with the emotional impact of glaucoma.

Peter is writing from the perspective of a Consultant Ophthalmologist, but the messages within this piece extend beyond Ophthalmology and will resonate with many other medical professionals who are facing the challenge of delivering care when there is a ‘demand-capacity mismatch’.

As we emerge from the grasp of the COVID pandemic, many of us are faced with the problem of delivering glaucoma care to unprecedented numbers of patients with glaucoma.

The demand-capacity mismatch in delivering care 

The national demand-capacity mismatch in glaucoma care has been well articulated by many, including members of our own Royal College. Such is the scale of the daunting task ahead of us that many Consultant Ophthalmologists understandably feel a little lost. Together with our teams, we will need to transform and reconfigure glaucoma care with some speed.

As we do this, there will be an opportunity to harness technology and the skills of other Allied Health Professionals.

Supporting patients with the emotional impact of Glaucoma 

I was speaking to a young man with glaucoma in his only seeing eye recently and was moved by his final words as we parted, “It’s a lonely disease, glaucoma.” The impact of glaucoma on quality of life and the activities of daily living is well known, as is its effect on the mental health of our patients.

There are a number of charities that can provide additional support for glaucoma patients, these include:

  • Glaucoma UK aims to end preventable glaucoma sight loss. They offer information about Glaucoma, a helpline and Glaucoma support groups.
  • Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB),  is one of the UK’s leading sight loss charities and the largest community of blind and partially sighted people. They offer advice and have a helpline that patients can call.
  • See ability provide extraordinary support and champion better eye care for people with learning disabilities and autism, many of whom have sight loss.
  • Thomas Pocklington Trust supports blind and partially sighted people to live the life they want to lead and support grant applications that reflect our core strategy strands.

Recognising the impact of isolation 

As we reconfigure glaucoma services across the UK, there is an opportunity for us to re-connect with our patients as they emerge from their isolation.

It has indeed been a very lonely journey for many patients during the pandemic, and for many health professionals too. There are few who have not personally experienced the terrible consequences of this disease.

The impact of isolation and loneliness on mental health and wellbeing is well recognised. Organisations that provide information and support include:

Putting people at the heart of service reconfiguration

We have a chance now to put patients and healthcare professionals at the heart of service reconfiguration – we have a chance to bridge the gap.

The kindness we show our patients and workforce as we emerge from the pandemic will take us a long way on the difficult journey ahead. We are blessed to be in a profession that enables us to preserve the gift of sight, and in so doing have a responsibility to ensure that it is based on a strong foundation of kindness.”

Ophthalmologists are leading the way in reducing glaucoma related blindness. Find out more about how ophthalmic research, guidelines and training is contributing to creating a brighter world for those with glaucoma.