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Thousands in Scotland await eyecare 

Thousands in Scotland await eyecare

Tens of thousands of people in Scotland wait more than four months for vital eye care, campaign group tells MSPs

  • Approximately 29,000 people wait more than 16 weeks for eye care services in Scotland after initial referral1
  • The situation has worsened following dramatic falls in outpatient activity during the COVID-19 pandemic2
  • National partnership, The Eyes Have It, call on Scottish government to prioritise eye care services as part of NHS post-COVID recovery plans

Nearly 30,000 patients are waiting more than 16 weeks on NHS waiting lists for specialist ophthalmology treatment in Scotland, Members of the Scottish Parliament have been told during a reception at Holyrood.

And, according to NHS figures, these patients make up more than 50% of the entire ophthalmology waiting list1.

Scottish parliamentarians from across the political spectrum who attended the event in the Scottish Parliament today [1st June 2022], learnt about the challenges patients with deteriorating eye health face in Scotland. The event was sponsored by Stuart McMillan MSP and hosted by the The Eyes Have It (TEHI) partnership with Sight Scotland.

Sight loss, the complete or partial loss of vision not correctable by usual means such as glasses, affects 200,000 people in Scotland3, more than the number affected by dementia4. Ophthalmology is now the third busiest outpatient specialty in the Scottish NHS and accounts for 10% of new outpatient appointments in Scotland2.

Cathy Yelf, CEO of the Macular Society, speaking on behalf of TEHI, which is made up of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, the Macular Society, Fight for Sight, the Association of Optometrists and Roche Products Ltd, said: “Capacity shortages can have very serious implications for patients, with delayed follow up (both at the time of diagnosis and during ongoing care) found to be a factor in sight loss. The progressive nature of conditions such as wet age-related macular degeneration means that delays to treatment can result in poorer outcomes for patients with sight loss.”

Craig Spalding, CEO of Sight Scotland, one of Scotland’s oldest charities, said: “Eye conditions are estimated to cost the Scottish economy £2bn annually3, and despite the introduction, in 2006, of free primary eye exams in Scotland and strategies to identify priority areas for action to improve eye care services, Scotland continues to face challenges.

“The situation has worsened due to the Covid-19 pandemic which led to a dramatic fall in outpatient activity, but there is now an opportunity to improve efficiency, effectiveness and patient experience as the healthcare system looks towards COVID-19 recovery. Reducing waiting lists must be a key priority.”

Stuart McMillan MSP, Convenor of the Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Visual Impairment, said: “Sight loss can have a devastating effect on a person’s quality of life and emotional well-being. The implementation of free primary care eye examinations by the Scottish Government in 2006 helped to reduce pressures on secondary care but the Covid-19 pandemic has created new challenges meaning there is still more to do to improve patient access and expand capacity.

“It has been a pleasure to host this event with The Eyes Have It partnership to raise awareness of this important issue”

The Eyes Have It partnership, with Sight Scotland, has drawn up a series of recommendations calling on the Scottish government to prioritise eye health within NHS service recovery.

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