After welcoming in the New Year, it’s often an automatic reaction for many of us to think about what the next 12 months will hold. Hannah Adams, editor of NB Online asked a number of key leaders in the eye health and sight loss sector what they think will be important for professionals in 2018.
I work as an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) in the eye clinic at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and I think 2018 will see an increase in patients being seen in 'virtual clinics', both here and at other hospitals too. These are for patients with stable macular degeneration and glaucoma.
An allied health professional, such as a staff nurse or orthoptist will take scans and measurements of the eye which are then reviewed by an ophthalmologist who will decide if further treatment is needed.
Virtual clinics cut down on waiting lists, waiting times and increase the capacity of ophthalmologists too.
During 2018, I plan to create stronger and better links with primary health care and ensure that the information about the ECLO service is easily accessible in as many GP surgeries and opticians as possible. Lots of people who might benefit from the ECLO service aren't actively receiving treatment from the eye clinic, so it's important that they know about it too.
I also plan to create stronger links with services for deaf and hard of hearing people too, so that we can better support those with dual sensory loss.
I'd like to work on increasing awareness of visual impairment in the other outpatient departments and wards and deliver training sessions to members of staff who work there.
I work at the eye clinic at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary which is part of a Foundation Trust that includes a large eye clinic at Calderdale Hospital too in the neighbouring town of Halifax. We have recruited six new volunteers to help raise awareness of the ECLO service in the eye clinic at Calderdale. The volunteers will help to make referrals to the ECLO service by speaking to patients about hte service in the waiting room.
My priorities for 2018 will be very much focused on supporting them, alongside our Volunteer Coordinator, and learning from this new piece of work.
I will also continue to give patients the best quality of support and information that I can and be there for them through what is often the most difficult time of their lives.
Locally, we had a huge breakthrough, as we have opened a new and fully functioning Macular Clinic at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary. Up until then, patients who needed to attend the Macular Clinic would be required to go to Calderdale Hospital instead.
For people living in the outer villages of Huddersfield, this would mean travelling 10 to 12 miles, often in heavy traffic. Now they can attend a clinic that is much closer to home and many have commented that it has made a big difference. It has also reduced the pressure on the Macular Clinic at Calderdale and reduced waiting times too.
On a national level, I was very interested to hear that research in using stem cells to test new treatments for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is taking places at Newcastle University.
The scientists have used stem cells to create a model of AMD in the lab and observe the symptoms of the deterioration of the eye. The model could become a vital tool for testing potential treatments for the disease - an important step towards finding a cure.
Patients often comment that they can ask us questions they don't feel able to ask the doctor or other clinicians. They might admit to an ECLO that they're not 100 per cent sure how and when to administer their eye drops or that they're not sure what their diagnosis means or if they should have had a follow-up appointment in the clinic.
We can talk through these queries and provide answers in plain English, seeking the appropriate medical help when needed. By doing this I think we make an important contribution to medical compliance and relieve pressure from clinic staff as well as offering the best support possible to the patient.
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