2014 Vision UK Conference – let’s not lose sight of the problem

2 June 2014

Members of Kingsley Napley will be volunteering at the 2014 Vision UK Conference (the leading eye health and sight loss sector conference) on 12 June 2014 to show their support towards some of the treatment initiatives being implemented to improve overall patient referral waiting time such as the Adult UK Sight Loss Pathway.

We are committed to the campaign for the prevention of avoidable sight loss in the UK, and to assist patients who have suffered preventable sight loss (together with their families) by using awards of compensation - in cases where treatment providers have been found to be negligent - to fund the best possible rehabilitation packages (including the use of assistive technologies where recommended).

According to the RNIB, almost two million people are currently living with significant sight loss in the UK, and this figure is predicted to double to four million by 2050.

The increase is being seen right across the age spectrum, from the very youngest to the oldest members of society.

In the case of British children, Blind Children UK (the charity formerly known as the National Blind Children’s Society) says that much of the rise is down to more very premature babies surviving than would previously have been the case. Now one in twenty of these is likely to be born blind, as a result of conditions like retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) – a disease of the eyes affecting prematurely-born babies, thought to be caused by disorganized growth of retinal blood vessels which can result in scarring or retinal detachment.

Blind Children UK estimate that the number of babies born with sight difficulties as a result of being prematurely born has risen by 22% over the past decade to more than 1,800 cases a year.

ROP can be successfully treated during neonatal screening if diagnosed early enough. Unfortunately, delays in diagnosis are in some cases leaving children with what would otherwise be avoidable visual impairment.

Other paediatric ophthalmic conditions can manifest themselves over a longer period of time, with the biggest increase shown in patients under the age of 5. Blind Children UK is trying to raise awareness of possible symptoms which might alert parents to the presence of early sight loss such as red or cloudy eyes, eyes which are wobbly or constantly in motion, and eyes which react badly to bright light.

Unfortunately demand and funding pressures on the NHS are leading to delays in screening and routine paediatric eye examinations. Blind Children UK adduced a survey of 130 parents of children with sight problems that found that a quarter of them had to wait longer than a year to have their child diagnosed. Half of the interviewees found that the delay had some sort of ‘negative’ effect (either causing avoidable loss of sight or by having an adverse psychological impact on the parents and the child).

At the other end of the spectrum, the RNIB have published a new report entitled ‘Don’t Lose Sight, Don’t Delay – Perspectives on the Wet Age Related Macular Degeneration (Wet AMD) Patient Journey’.

Wet AMD is an eye condition that affects 40,000 older people in the UK every year. It can develop quickly, and can result in loss of central vision in as little as three months if not treated quickly in a hospital eye clinic.

The RNIB’s report highlights how optometrists can prevent unnecessary sight loss in wet AMD patients by making faster referrals.

As part of the RNIB’s Save Our Sight (SOS) campaign and research, it was estimated that the average eye clinic referral time to diagnosis (and treatment) varies greatly in the UK with 69% of cases being diagnosed outside of the seven days recommended by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists Guidelines.

The RNIB have also highlighted other concerns about current NHS management of Wet AMD, which are quoted as follows:-

  • Preventable delays are caused by some GPs or optometrists not following their local rapid referral procedures;
  • One third (34% of patients asked by the RNIB) felt there was a lack of information and support at the time of referral and diagnosis;
  • Patients can be referred unnecessarily between optometrist and GP, which can delay diagnosis;
  • Over referral of patients who don’t have wet AMD was also found to be an issue, due to a lack of appropriate diagnostic technology in the community.

Both Blind Children UK and the RNIB are calling for changes in the future management of eye disease to prevent future avoidable loss of sight.

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