Newly blind left to cope alone

Press Release 

  • Less than one in ten (eight per cent) people who lost their sight were offered formal counselling after they found out they were losing their sight
  • Nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of patients leave the hospital not knowing what eye condition they have
Too many Scots are still not being offered the vital emotional and practical support they need when they start to go blind, according to the country’s leading sight loss charity. 
Research by the Royal National Institute of Blind People Scotland has found that only eight of 56 outpatient departments in Scotland have support staff in place to help patients after their diagnosis.
Meanwhile, a new report released today [Tuesday 15 April] by the charity in England, also reveals just how precarious funding is for existing vision support roles as many of the services have no guaranteed funding after April 2015.
Vision Support Officers offer emotional support and practical advice to people who are losing their sight. They help people understand their eye condition and explain how to take treatment that might prevent further sight loss. Based in eye clinics and hospitals, they are a vital link to services such as counselling, workplace support and rehabilitation, so that people can adapt to life with sight loss whilst remaining independent.
Most NHS staff don’t have the time to offer patients the follow-on support they need to come to terms with their condition. Research suggests that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of patients leave the eye clinic without even knowing the name of their eye condition, and less than one in 10 patients were offered formal counselling to help them deal with their diagnosis.
RNIB Scotland is actively campaigning health boards and local authorities to extend the posts of existing vision support officers. It is also urging the public to sign its petition calling for every eye clinic to have access to a one. 
Tasleem, from Dundee, has chronic dry eye syndrome. “I was told my cornea was damaged and given drops to help repair the damage over a year. I tried a variety of different drops but there was no improvement. At the time of diagnosis I felt confused, upset and scared. It was difficult to take in. So when the ophthalmologist said my sight wasn’t going to get any better and could get worse I was stunned. The words the doctor used stayed with me for a long time. I got very down about how isolated I felt and felt useless where my family had to do everything for me.
“When the Vision Support Officer contacted me I wasn’t over the shock of the diagnosis. But she told me about all the support available and sent me information, like details of the employment services that could help me go back into work. She didn’t push me and sent the information for when I was ready to get other support. I felt she understood how I felt.  The Vision Support Service has been a really good support system and gave me lots of really useful information.”
John Legg, director of RNIB Scotland, said: “Although sight loss has been compared to bereavement, many people are left isolated with no idea of where to find help. And yet without support in coming to terms with sight loss, people find it very difficult to develop positive coping strategies. They can rapidly lose confidence, leading to social isolation and potential mental health problems, often manifested in feelings of depression, anger and confusion.
“No one should have to face the prospect alone or without the support they need to help them through the situation. This is why we will be focusing our efforts on making sure more people are reached when they need us."
In Scotland, 10 people begin to lose their sight every day and by 2030, it is predicted that the number of people affected by sight loss could double to almost 400,000. Demand for eye clinic services, which are already under strain, will significantly increase.
For more information, contact Ian Brown at RNIB Scotland on 07918 053 952.