The Royal College of Ophthalmologists President, Professor Bernie Chang, joined a panel of senior leaders from across the eye care sector at the launch of the Specsavers State of the UK’s Eye Health 2022 report. Professor Chang was joined by Dr Peter Hampson, Clinical Director, Association of Optometrists, Ross Campbell, Ophthalmic Director of RCO Ltd, Fiona Sandford, Chief Executive of Visionary and was chaired by Dr Michael Mosley, to discuss how to draw on industry expertise to improve patient outcomes.
Ongoing delays in hospital appointments and the impact of the pandemic have added to patient backlogs for ophthalmology. According to the report, more than two million people with glaucoma and ocular hypertension are at risk of vision loss. The report goes on to state that glaucoma accounts for 20 per cent of NHS outpatient appointments but as many as half of all cases are undiagnosed. The College has predicted that the demand for glaucoma services will increase by 44 per cent by 2035. The economic impact of sight loss is also significant and is estimated at £36bn, rising by £2.4bn by 2024.
The panel answered audience questions on the issues surrounding eye care services and what can be done to ensure that the backlog of patients waiting for ophthalmic treatments is reduced and that a sustainable eye care service is established for the future.
More progress in reducing this backlog is needed if patients are to avoid sight loss and impaired vision, which can have a profound impact on their daily life and leave them more dependent on others.
The key areas mentioned by the panel representatives of RCOphth, Association of Optometrists, Specsavers and Visionary were:
· Community optometry has the clinical skills and diagnostic technology in place to detect and manage glaucoma.
· There is no national plan to address the challenges of glaucoma, which means we are sitting on a ‘ticking time bomb’.
· There have been successful efforts to improve eye care in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, which should be replicated in England, eg
o the Welsh government has provided additional funding for optometry training
o Scotland has developed a bespoke glaucoma database, shared across the country
o Northern Ireland has a dedicated glaucoma clinic in Belfast, offering diagnostic and monitoring tests with optometrists triaging referrals and freeing up consultant time
· Access to services must be increased for those most at risk of avoidable sight loss – particularly in relation to those in deprived areas and homeless people. The cost of living crisis is also likely to impact on the vulnerable and there must be improved access to care. Professor Chang, commented: ‘Significant backlogs continue to weigh on ophthalmology services across England, with over 643,000 patients waiting for ophthalmology treatment in England, which is almost 10% of the entire NHS backlog. This continues to bring into sharp focus the need for ophthalmic professionals across primary and secondary care to work in multidisciplinary teams to increase capacity and help reduce backlogs. Reformed eye care services need to be configured to meet patient demand and relevant NICE guidance should be produced to ensure the right patients are treated by the right professionals in the right setting, and I am encouraged by the willingness of professionals from across eye care services to work together. Patients are at the centre of the eye care services we deliver and we must meet the challenges of providing sustainable patient care with continuing investment in the workforce and technology’.