Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) play a vital role in hospitals and eye clinics. They are there to signpost patients to emotional and practical support at the point of their sight loss diagnosis. Alice Elliott, RNIB ECLO at the Hospital Trust at Huddersfield and Calderdale, gives NB Online an insight into a day in the life of an ECLO.
It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to a day in the life of an ECLO, or Sight Loss Adviser as we’re also called. As part of a busy hospital outpatient department, we’re never quite sure what a "typical" day will bring. Having been in post for three-and-a-half years, I find it challenging and rewarding in equal measures.
My background is in the voluntary sector. I’ve been a support worker, an outreach worker, an advocate, a benefits adviser and a volunteering coordinator over the years. I’ve worked with people with learning disabilities, mental health issues and physical impairments, but up until I became an ECLO, sight loss and eye clinics were something of an unknown.
I learnt very quickly! The ECLO role is a fast-moving and intense one. It wasn’t long before I had a firm grasp of the major eye conditions and the certification process, could use Snellen and LogMar charts (the charts with different-sized letters) to measure clarity of sight, and understood that the letters DNA I kept seeing in the eye clinic are not related to genetics (it means Did Not Attend!)
Being there for support
As ECLOs, we’re there for people at what may well be the hardest time of their lives. Patients might need to vent their anger and frustration. They might have urgent questions that need answering quickly. They might be anxious about keeping their job or how they’ll cope without driving anymore. Many go through a grieving process – life as they know it is over and it takes time to come to terms with the loss.
We can’t always provide immediate answers but we’ll make a plan of action on how to tackle each issue and talk through all the relevant options. For instance, a person might talk about their fear around crossing roads. This may mean that they don’t venture out as much as they’d like, which can lead to boredom and social isolation and there’s a high risk of depression setting in.
ECLOs would make an emergency referral for vision rehabilitation and mobility training, highlighting the vulnerability of the person and the associated risks. It might be appropriate to signpost to RNIB's sight loss counselling service and perhaps a referral to a local agency offering befriending as well, so the person feels less alone.
Emotional support and reassurance are vital when talking with patients as often they’re overwhelmed by the amount of medical input and be thoroughly sick of being in hospital. Many are worried about what will happen once they arrive home. It’s also really important to communicate effectively with all medical professionals involved. We need to make sure messages to the patient and their family are clear and updated regularly to try and avoid confusion. Confusion always makes a stressful situation a lot worse.
Lots of ECLOs see children too and when we do, it’s vitally important that our emotional support and empathy extends to all the family. Clear and concise information, great links with education services, as well as access to support networks are all vital in ensuring that both the child and their parents are given all the help they need.
Working as a team
Sight loss is often one of many issues a person is facing, so it’s not unusual to find ourselves in lots of different areas of the hospital. As such, we can be called to other hospital wards like a stroke ward, ophthalmology ward, elderly ward or perhaps another department all together.
A successful ECLO feels part of the ophthalmology team. We attend clinical governance meetings, give updates to our hospital colleagues, attend training sessions and hand out chocolates at Christmas time! I might spend a morning processing Certificates of Visual Impairment (the form that informs a person’s local social services of their sight condition), pop over to a ward at lunchtime and chat to a patient about staying in employment after their eye clinic appointment in the afternoon. I generally think of myself as belonging to two organisations – the RNIB and the Hospital Trust at Huddersfield and Calderdale, where I’m based.
From researching opportunities like attending an experience day at a race track (in a dual control car with a sighted driver) to referring a client in their 90s to Online Today, the only thing I can really be sure of is that life as an ECLO could never be described as boring.
There’s a reason we’re a passionate bunch – we love what we do!