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NHS treatment delays leave hundreds blind

Hundreds of people in the UK are going blind every year due to extended waiting periods for eye treatments, according to a new study.

Research by the British Ophthalmological Surveillance Unit discovered that more than 260 patients with serious conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration are permanently losing their sight because the National Health Service (NHS) had not been able to arrange treatment in time.

The Telegraph has reported that on average, up to 22 patients a month are being left blind or with worsening vision due to the crisis, which has led the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APP) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment to call for a swift response to help clinics keep pace with demand.

"Urgent action is needed to ensure eyecare services meet the needs of patients now and in the future."
Lord David Blunkett, APPG member

“Urgent action is needed to ensure eyecare services meet the needs of patients now and in the future. World-class treatments are now available for conditions like wet AMD. It is vital that patients have access to them at the right time to save their sight,” APPG member Lord David Blunkett said.

The study showed that 80% of the affected cases required long-term medication and follow-up due to chronic conditions, which are not covered by NHS targets. As a result, some patients had to wait for more than a year for an appointment, and those with vision impairment, on average, waited three times longer than doctors would have wanted.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIBP) has urged ministers to enforce recommendations based on the findings of the report, part of which suggested the creation of national targets to ensure patients needing follow-up care were properly attended to within clinically appropriate periods.

“Nobody should lose sight from a treatable condition simply because their eye clinic is too busy to provide care in a clinically appropriate timescale,” (RNIBP) chair Ms Eleanor Southwood stressed.

In the past four years, England has experienced a 10% increase in demand for ophthalmology appointments, with around 7.6 million recorded in 2016/17. It has also been projected that patients with sight-loss may increase by up to 40% by 2030.

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