In a report published today, MPs have revealed that NHS delays are causing hundreds of patients every year to suffer loss of vision.
About half a million people in Britain suffer from age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is one of the main causes of visual impairment in the UK and the number of diagnoses per year increases as the average age of the UK population rises.
AMD affects the central part of the retina (called the macula) and damage caused by this condition will lead to deterioration in central vision. Once damage to the macula has occurred, it is irreparable, so early diagnosis and treatment is crucial in preventing visual impairment.
A similar number of people in the UK suffer from glaucoma and diabetic eye disease (known as diabetic retinopathy), which are also becoming more common conditions. As with AMD, visual loss caused by these conditions is irreparable and so the key to retaining as much vision as possible is early diagnosis and treatment.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment held an inquiry in 2017 to identify whether the NHS is doing enough to prevent avoidable sight loss in the UK. In its report, published today, it says that the demand for ophthalmic care in the UK has increased by 10% in the last four years. As part of its inquiry into the standard of ophthalmic healthcare in the UK, the parliamentary group found that more than 50% of the patients questioned said that at least one appointment or treatment for their ophthalmic conditions had been delayed, and that the delays had caused their daily living to become more difficult.
Lord Low of Dalston is quoted in The Times as saying: “The system is failing patients on a grand scale”, while Jim Shannon, co-chairman of the parliamentary group on eye health, said: “Services are delaying and cancelling time-critical appointments, resulting in some patients not receiving sight-saving treatment and care when they need it. As a result people are experiencing avoidable sight loss, loss of independence and impaired well-being.”
Mr Low and Mr Shannon estimate that between 178 and 260 patients per year experience avoidable deterioration in their vision as a result of delays in their care.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches LLP, said: “The inquiry of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment effectively found that NHS delays are causing a large number of patients in the UK to suffer visual impairment that could be avoided.
“We have acted for a number of patients who have experienced worsening vision because of delays throughout their treatment. Delays can arise, for example, when GPs do not send referrals when they ought to, or at hospitals when patients are not seen as quickly as they should be. Treatment for a variety of eye conditions is often time-critical and delays in the course of a patient’s treatment can have significant impacts on their outcome. We understand from our experience of working for patients who have suffered avoidable visual loss how their daily lives have been affected and we are worried that there seems to be a wide-spread problem throughout the NHS system.
“We would urge any patients who experience visual changes to contact their GP or ophthalmologist as soon as possible, but if you, a family member or a friend have any concerns regarding a form of eye treatment, please contact our specialist team who may be able to assist.”