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New Emergency Eye Care Treatment Centres will deal with sight-threatening eye conditions

People in Scotland with sight-threatening eye conditions will be referred to newly created Emergency Eye Care Treatment Centres under new measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

Consultant ophthalmologist Dr John Olson, who has led on the development of NHS Scotland's new 'Covid-19 National Eye Health Framework: Saving Sight, Saving Lives', said the aim was "to preserve sight where we can, but not at the cost of life itself".

Speaking on Connect Radio, the Glasgow-based station operated by sight loss charity RNIB, Dr Olson said local high street opticians can now only be contacted by phone during normal working hours.

They can refer more serious cases on to the new Centres being set up in each health board area. Opticians there can, if necessary, contact an ophthalmologist (a specialist eye doctor) who will decide if a patient needs to go to hospital for intervention. "At all stages, face-to-face contact will be minimised," stressed Dr Olson.

"Emergency Eye Care Treatment Centres have personal protection equipment and the environment is extremely safe. Before any patient can access this environment, they will have to answer a Covid-19 questionnaire over the phone. Your medical history will also be taken over the phone.

"Before you can enter a Centre, you will wait outside. Only when you are told by phone that the building is clean and safe will you be allowed access. Inside, very careful measures will be in place to maintain social distance."

In hospitals, patients and ophthalmologists may speak over the phone in separate rooms, and there will be wide spacing in waiting rooms. "It's about maintaining social distance wherever possible," emphasised Dr Olson.

With the shift in hospital resources to tackle coronavirus, people with some eye conditions may worry diagnosis and treatment could be delayed. Some conditions such as cataracts will not result in permanent sight loss if surgery is postponed.

However, treatment for age-related macular degeneration, the most common cause of sight loss in Britain, involves a course of injections to arrest damage. Likewise, people with diabetes normally attend regular screenings to detect retinopathy, a potentially damaging complication of the disease.

Dr Olson said: "People with sight conditions such as wet age-related macular degeneration or diabetes should still attend appointments for sight-saving treatment where invited."

James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, said: "Maintaining good eye health remains very important during the current situation and we welcome assurance that treatment will continue. The RNIB Helpline can be contacted on 0303 123 9999 by anyone who needs advice or support during this difficult time."

Note: High street opticians can be contacted by phone during normal working hours (9am to 5.30pm). Outside these hours, people should phone NHS 111.