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Sight loss support service in Highlands marks five years of help

A life-changing service, run in partnership between NHS Highlands and national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland celebrates a key anniversary this week.

The Eye Care Liaison Officer (ECLO) service in the region marks five years of helping people diagnosed with sight loss 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 Maeve Lawler. "People referred to us can be distressed, confused, frightened - often very unsure of what a future with sight loss can hold for them. That's where myself and my fellow ECLO, Roslyn Munro, can help.

"We offer people the emotional reassurance and practical help they often need after diagnosis. People can experience a whole range of emotions - shock, denial, anger, fear and grief. Just having someone to talk to, and to be confident that things will be all right, is a big thing."

The ECLO service works with clinicians and nurses in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and remotely in Caithness, Fort William and Skye.

"Each person deals with sight loss in different ways," says Roslyn. "Giving the person a safe space and time to process what is happening and letting them know they have been heard is one of the most important things I do as an ECLO. I reassure them that I am there to support them and, if they feel they don’t need that support right now, I let them know they can come back to me when they feel they are ready for it."

Angela Clelland (47) from Inverness is one of Maeve's clients. Angela has lost some of her sight over the past few years due to retinopathy, a complication of diabetes.

"Right now, the sight in my left eye is very limited," she explains. "In my right eye it's just about ok. But I can't see in the dark at all and need magnifiers to read and use a computer.

"I've had five eye-operations in the past year and on three occasions I temporarily lost all of my sight following a vitreous bleed and retinal detachment. I was referred me to RNIB Scotland's Eye Care Liaison Officer service and within an hour of getting home Maeve Lawler phoned me to arrange an appointment. Before that I'd had little support in dealing with my sight loss.

"Maeve was amazing, a godsend. She linked me in with various other RNIB Scotland sources of help, such as their Living Well With Sight loss course, financial advice and help in getting technology to continue to do my job. I'm a positive behavioural support practitioner, working with adults with additional support needs.

"I've also set up a walking group for people with visual impairments. Due to this I have made some fantastic friends who have all been a great support to each other. This has had a huge impact on all our mental health and realising we are not alone. Had it not been for Maeve, this would never have happened and I would have felt extremely isolated. Unless you have experienced sight loss you have no idea of the emotional impact.

"I would recommend the ECLO service to anyone who is experiencing the loss of their sight. When I first contacted Maeve my mental health was deteriorating but nothing was too much trouble for her. She was kind and reassuring just at the time I needed that most."

Eye specialists with NHS Highlands have also praised the work of the service.

Dr Andrew Pyott, clinical lead for Raigmore Ophthalmology Department, said: "Quite simply, I do not know how we managed without the ECLO service. On innumerable occasions, I have been faced with a patient for whom there are no medical solutions to their sight loss, and I have been wanting to remain positive in the face of their adversity. I have never yet had a patient who has not been helped by the service ECLO provide.

"Patients have always been so grateful for the help that has been given. In particular, it is so useful to have a professional who can direct patients to relevant agencies that are going to be able to provide support."

Consultant ophthalmologist Dr Dave Knight added: "The introduction of the ELCO service in the Highlands and Islands has been of great benefit to the care offered in the hospital eye service over these past five years. Their ability to support people from the time of diagnosis of an eye condition, along with their expert knowledge and skills in informing and directing people to the services and support that is available in the community, has been invaluable."

To contact the Eye Care Liaison Officer service in Highlands, contact Maeve Lawler (tel 07525 910 153, email [email protected]) or Roslyn Munro (tel 07541 206 843, email [email protected]).