In a recent interview with BBC Wales, Gwyn Williams warned that a ‘tide of avoidable blindness’ could sweep Wales if eye care services are not reformed. He went on to say that waits for key treatments were ‘the biggest they’ve ever been’.
Mr Williams told BBC Wales that the main areas of ophthalmology with ‘harmful delays’ in Wales were macular degeneration, glaucoma and diabetic eye disease. The latest data shows that more than half of the planned 133,000 appointments for the highest-risk eye patients were significantly overdue. Wales does not have enough consultant ophthalmologists and must reform the system as recruitment was difficult. That includes training non-medical practitioners to do work traditionally done by doctors, like giving injections, reviewing patients after injections, and preparing people for cataract surgery. Trained nurses and non-medical professionals such as optometrists and orthoptists have a crucial role to play in the multi-disciplinary team (MDT), and the College’s Ophthalmic Practitioner Training (OPT) Programme, see here, allows those professionals to upskill and gain the required competencies. The MDT is vital in ensuring appropriate patient care and reducing delays, which can lead to avoidable sight loss.
Mr Williams also called for the role of optometrists to be expanded and for the establishment of three eye care centres of excellence in Wales. ‘If we don’t take permanent, proper action to solve these difficulties I cannot see how the functioning health service can continue. Without solving these problems we are at risk of many people in Wales needlessly going blind’.
Responding to Mr Williams, the Minister for Health and Social Care, Eluned Morgan MS, said: ‘Over the past 12 months, eye care services have implemented considerable innovations to ensure that patients at risk of sight loss are seen and are treated. Of course, what we are doing is implementing the recommendations of the Pyott Report’.
The interview led to a question in the Welsh Parliament from Andrew RT Davies MS. Will the Minister make a statement on the warning by Dr Gwyn Williams of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists that a tide of avoidable blindness could sweep Wales if eye care services are not reformed?
In response to the question, the Minister reiterated the government’s commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Pyott Report and highlighted that two new surgical mobile theatres dedicated to cataract treatment were now in operation with £1.4m from the Welsh government. The Minister also explained that the government was looking to change the rules to allow optometrists to expand their roles and was also looking to develop a recruitment strategy to make sure the right professionals are available in the right place to provide the best care.
View: Topical question in the Welsh Parliament: Andrew RT Davies MS