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Steps must be taken to contain rise in sight loss in Scotland

Scotland is at the forefront of eye-health provision a major conference in Glasgow will hear today - but the number of people with sight loss could still double unless steps are taken to contain the rise.

Around 170,000 people are currently living in Scotland with significant sight loss and two million across the UK. But our ageing population and rocketing rates of sight-threatening conditions such as diabetes will increase this number.

Already up to one in six appointments in Scottish hospitals are for eye clinics, professionals attending today’s Scottish Vision Strategy conference will hear.

The one-day event will bring together clinicians, optometrists, civil servants, social workers and third-sector organisations to discuss ways to prevent avoidable sight loss and maximise the independence of those who are blind or partially sighted.

Mark O’Donnell, chief executive of Royal Blind and Scottish War Blinded, said: “This event is an important opportunity to discuss how we achieve real inclusion of people with visual impairment in Scotland through more chances in education and employment and better support in the community.”

James Adams, director of national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland, said: “Scotland has led the way in making eye examinations free for everyone, a major step forward in identifying sight problems in time to treat them. But we still need to do more to increase take-up in some of our most disadvantaged areas. And for those who are diagnosed with sight loss, we need to ensure everyone has access to counselling and support to help them adjust to life with limited or even no vision.”

Today’s conference is being organised as a collaboration between RNIB Scotland, Guide Dogs Scotland, Thomas Pocklington Trust and Visionary, Royal Blind, and Scottish Council on Visual Impairment, in association with Vision UK.

Among the themes under discussion at today’s event will be wellbeing and counselling support, equality and inclusion, and making the best use of technology, education and children's services.

Fiona Sandford, chief executive of Visionary and country partnerships lead with Thomas Pocklington Trust, will emphasise the need for the inclusion of people with experience of sight loss in the development and delivery of services. “Visionary wants to help create a society where people with sight loss experience no barriers to whatever it is they want to do,” she said, “and I look forward to discussing with conference delegates how this can be achieved.”

Dr Hazel McFarlane from Troon will talk about her experience of growing up with severe sight loss. Last year she was listed as one of the 100 Most Influential Disabled People in the UK.

“I found the emotional adjustment to sight loss tricky,” she said. “It would have been really helpful to have had the opportunity to discuss in confidence my emotions around total sight loss. As a sector, we need to work collaboratively to ensure anyone diagnosed with sight loss, at any stage in life, is well supported, informed and empowered to adjust positively.”