A report from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) entitled 'Saving money, losing sight' reveals that delays in diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care are resulting in people losing their sight needlessly. These problems are frequently caused by lack of capacity in eye clinics with staff describing their working conditions as "chaotic" and "running from one crisis to another."
The research is based on the findings of a survey sent to staff working in ophthalmology units and eye clinics across England. Staff were asked about current and future capacity in their eye department, the impact of insufficient capacity on patient care and possible solutions.
Over 80 per cent of respondents said their eye department has insufficient capacity to meet current demand, with 94 per cent reporting that future capacity will not meet rising demand. The ageing population and demand for services across a broad range of conditions were flagged as the main reasons for the increase in patient numbers.
A worrying 37 per cent of staff said that patients are "sometimes" losing their sight unnecessarily due to delayed treatment and follow up care caused by capacity problems. A further four per cent said they believed this loss of sight is happening "often."
Staff workload is also a real concern; over half said the problems are so significant that they have to undertake extra clinics in the evenings and at weekends to keep up with demand. Responding to the survey, staff described their working conditions as "chaotic" and "running from one crisis to another."
The Chief Executive of the RNIB, Lesley-Anne Alexander said: "These statistics are shameful as nobody should lose their sight from a treatable condition simply because their eye clinic is too busy to provide care in a clinically appropriate timescale. Hospital managers are ignoring the capacity crisis, often to save money, and are putting patients' sight at risk and their staff on course for burnout.”
The charity has called for the health service to conduct an urgent inquiry into the quality of eye care services and recommended that NHS England create a post for a national clinical director for eye care provision to oversee services.
An NHS England spokesperson said: “It is important that people have ready access to treatment they need. To ensure this happens Clinical Commissioning Groups will be working with other organisations in their area to ensure the needs of their patients are met.”
The report forms part of the RNIB's Save our Sight (SOS) campaign, aimed at challenging unnecessary sight loss and promoting the importance of timely access to vital treatment.