The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) has welcomed the announcement that the NHS in England will receive an extra £5.4 billion over the next six months to support its response to COVID-19 and help tackle waiting lists. This includes £1.5 billion to manage the elective surgery backlog (including £500 million capital funding), with delays to cataract surgery identified by government as a particular concern. Delays to cataract surgery can have a significant impact on a patient’s ability to retain their lifestyle, independence, and caring responsibilities and could lead to falls and other preventable accidents.
Backlog has worsened during the pandemic
The funding should help to address some of the severe backlogs in eye care services that have worsened during the pandemic. As a consequence, high risk patients are at significant risk of avoidable sight loss. In 2017, the RCOphth and British Ophthalmological Surveillance Unit found that patients were suffering permanent and severe visual loss due to health service-initiated delays, with up to 22 patients per month losing vision because of such delays.
Long term investment needed
While welcoming the announcement, Professor Bernie Chang, President of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, warned that long-term investment in the ophthalmology workforce is also needed to ensure that the rapidly growing patient demand is met in the coming years.
Long-term fixes are needed to tackle the backlog
This new funding will only be a short-term fix though. An increase in the supply of ophthalmologists and other eye care professionals is needed given we know that patient demand will rise significantly. This huge challenge can only be addressed by effective long-term workforce planning in addition to infrastructure and IT investment.’
Highlighting the need for long-term workforce planning, the RCOphth has also responded this week to Health Education England’s workforce call for evidence (RCOphth call for action on workforce). This details how demand for ophthalmology services is set to significantly increase in the next 15 years and calls for urgent action to ensure workforce supply is there to meet patient need.
1 Source: www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/rtt-waiting-times/rtt-data-2021-22/