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Doctors and clients praise Fife service that helps people come to terms with sight loss

A life-changing service, run in partnership between RNIB Scotland, NHS Fife and Seescape, celebrates a key anniversary this week.

The Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) service in Fife marks five years of helping people diagnosed with sight loss to come to terms with their condition and find their lives again.

"Imagine being told in a hospital eye clinic you are going to lose some or even all of your sight," says Wendy Millar of the national charity RNIB Scotland. "The news can be devastating. A hundred questions race through your head while you're wondering: 'What will happen to my life...?'

"In Fife, that's where myself and fellow ECLO Alex Grzywacz Kalaska can help. We offer people the emotional reassurance and practical help that they often need. People can go through a whole range of emotions - shock, denial, anger, fear and grief. Emotional support is a huge factor, just having someone to talk to and to be able to get some confidence that things will be all right."

The ECLO service works with clinicians and nurses in Queen Margaret's Hospital in Dunfermline and the Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, while Fife’s own local sight loss charity, Seescape, offers community support and rehabilitation.

"We help people of all ages although it's mostly older people we see," explains Wendy. "We're also supporting more and more families of people experiencing sight loss. Quite often they are at a crisis point and struggling to look after their loved ones."

Taking the time to listen to and understand each person individually is what's important, her colleague Alex emphasises. "Each person is different and deals with sight loss in different ways," she points out.

"You need to be able to hear when a person is having a difficult time and not overload them with information. Giving the person the time to process what is happening and reacting to them accordingly is most important. Reassuring them that you are there to support them and that, even if they don’t need that support right now, they can come back to you when they feel they are ready for it."

Consultant ophthalmologists with NHS Fife have praised the work of the service. Dr Adam Lewis said: "Wendy and Alex, provide a vital service for some of our most vulnerable patients," he says. "They dedicate an enormous amount time and care and open up a wealth of resources and information for patients. Their support to patients, and to us as ophthalmologists, is invaluable."

Dr Andrew Blaikie agreed: "I find the ECLO service invaluable when it comes to helping patients with sudden deterioration of vision. The team can take time with patients that I often don't have, sharing their hard-earned experience and compassion to really help patients deal with the new challenges that life with low vision brings."

Dr Caroline Styles added: "This partnership between RNIB Scotland, Seescape and the eye clinic has been invaluable for patients and staff. With the ECLO based in the eye clinic, expert advice and support is available as soon as the patient needs it. It is reassuring to know that my patients have some immediate help when there are no clinical treatments that will relieve their vision problems."

Wendy and Alex enjoy close working relationships with staff in both hospitals. "We are very much integrated as members of the ophthalmology team in NHS Fife," says Wendy. "Most people are referred on to us, but we occasionally visit people in wards to give support during their hospital stay.

"We also work closely with Seescape, which provides the sensory support on behalf of Fife Council. They offer a great range of services and have a wealth of experience. They can help with rehabilitation both with mobility and at home, aids, emotional support and much more."

Lesley Carcary, chief executive officer of Seescape, said: "Seescape has worked with the ECLO service in Fife for a number of years, and have found our partnership to be an invaluable means of reaching out to visually impaired people who we would otherwise struggle to reach.

"The team in Fife are knowledgeable and approachable, and we know that patients greatly value the role they play in supporting them to access support from a number of agencies, including clearly explaining what we can do to help them.”

Dawn Barron from Lochgelly was one of the clients helped by the ECLO service in Fife.

"My father-in-law was devastated and scared about his sight loss," she says. "He worried about being forced into residential care. He has Alzheimer's and it had also worsened and caused him more anxiety. This has had huge implications for him being able to take his medication as prescribed. We had seen a deterioration in him because of this. As family, we have done as much as possible to keep him independent and safe.

"The ECLO service provided great support. Someone taking an interest in advocating for us meant so much. As a relative, being able to voice my concern was so valuable. I can’t speak highly enough about the service. It made a huge impact. The ECLO raised the matter of medication as a safeguarding issue. My father-in-law now has district nurses who help him with his medication. It is less worry for the whole family.

"The ECLO service is brilliant. So helpful. The ECLO was always very professional and explained what was going on, informing me of any changes. I had already had contact with Seescape, who work on behalf of local authority, and they helped with magnification and made a home-visit to show us equipment. They were also very good."

Another 52-year-old patient, who prefers not to be named, remembers only too well how he felt when first diagnosed with a sight loss condition. "I felt numb, horrified and speechless," he says. "I was so worried. When the consultant told us, we didn't know what to do. But the ECLO took away the stress. The guidance was first class. It's a life-saving service - without it I would have disintegrated!

"The ECLO gave me confidence, helped me with my self-esteem - influenced me in a positive way on the decisions I made. Without this service I wouldn't have known where to go or what to do.

"I would thoroughly recommend the ECLO service in Fife. It's a no brainer, an absolute must! You don't know enough yourself. Without the ECLO, my situation would have been very scary!

"I was also referred to Seescape, the local sensory team. They helped with aids and were very good. Seescape made a huge difference by providing me with a bus pass, making public transport more accessible - they offered lots of support, too!"