At least four people a month are losing their sight in Wales because of delayed and cancelled appointments. In a report commissioned by RNIB Cymru doctors are saying that the appointments system is breaking down and unable to cope with the demand. The report makes a conservative estimate that 48 people a year are losing their sight because of delays in follow up appointments.
An ageing population, more treatment options and an increase in some underlying causes of sight loss, such as diabetes and obesity, have caused an increase in demand for ophthalmology appointments. Targets set by the Welsh Government mean that priority is given to the first appointment which means that patients who need follow up appointments and treatments often have to wait much longer than they should. In that time their sight can deteriorate rapidly without the appropriate treatment.
RNIB Cymru is concerned that systems within the NHS will not allow consultants to prioritise patients according to their clinical need. Hospitals are also failing to accurately record how many patients are losing their sight while waiting for an appointment.
Ceri Jackson, Director of RNIB Cymru said, “It is a scandal that so many people are losing their sight because of delayed or cancelled appointments and that only one health board in Wales could tell us how many people had lost their sight. Pressure to meet waiting time targets for new patients is putting vital follow up appointments at risk. Welsh Government and Health Boards need to undertake a comprehensive review of capacity and demand and to take immediate steps to clear the backlog of patients waiting to be seen by ophthalmology services.”
RNIB Cymru wants to see new systems put in place to ensure eye clinics have the appropriate information to prioritise appointments in line with clinical need and not waiting time targets. It is also of vital importance that patients are informed of the risks to their sight if their appointments are delayed or cancelled.
Investment is also needed in IT systems in order to develop innovative solutions, such as virtual clinics.
The President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Professor Caroline MacEwen said, “This report highlights an area of grave concern, in that patients who are within the health care system are being lost and coming to harm. There is a pressing need to protect follow up patients who have known eye diseases with a waiting time “target”, just as applies to new patients, coupled with the collection of accurate data on such delays. The prevention of avoidable sight loss should be an area of priority for all involved in eyecare.”