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Ten years imagining a future following sight loss

A health worker changing the lives of blind patients, celebrates a key anniversary this year.

RNIB ECLO Nina McIntosh

Nina Mcintosh, an Eye Care Liaison Officer (ECLO) based at Ninewells Hospital, marks 10 years in a role which supports people diagnosed with sight loss in coming to terms with their condition.

“An ECLO’s door is always open to anyone who has a question about sight loss and the impact felt in everyday life,” Nina says. “Some of our interactions can be emotional and challenging; there are practical aspects to losing your sight such as being unable to drive, and emotional ones too.” Nina knows exactly what it's like. She has sight loss, herself, and is a guide-dog user.

“I was a patient once myself- having the experience of sight loss and the rollercoaster ride that I have been on over the years, just encourages me in wanting to help and promote the work we do even more,” she says. “I’m particularly passionate about encouraging independence and helping patients realise that for some things, it can be trial and error and not a one-size-fits-all solution to any problems they are having.

“It’s a highly rewarding job when a patient comes back for a review and they are much more positive, it always makes the job worthwhile.”

The ECLO service, run by sight loss charity RNIB Scotland throughout the NHS Tayside region, can refer people on to other services, advise on aids and adjustments to make life easier, help with retaining a job, and provide information for family, friends and carers.

It is estimated that there are over 15,000 people living with sight loss in the Tayside region and the service is key for busy clinical teams who are often under intense time and resource pressures. In the last year alone, the Tayside service supported over 1200 patients, in addition to support for over 300 relatives, friends, and carers of patients. Consultant Ophthalmologist Helen Murgatroyd explains,

“We often do not have the clinical time, knowledge, or skill to support patients in the way the ECLOs like Nina can.

“One 68-year-old patient recently lost vision in both eyes. She lived alone and had enjoyed gardening and crafting. The patient and their family were understandably completely devastated. Nina supported the patient, directed her to a range of services and financial support, and a befriending contact.

“The patient started swimming, getting out and about with her new guide dog, and the proudest moment was when she brought in her crochet dish cloth – which was much better than any of my attempts! Seeing the change in the emotional state of the patient was life affirming. Nina efficiently and effectively supported this patient to imagine a future following her sight loss.”

And what changes has Nina experienced in her decade of supporting others with sight loss?

“The world is catching up with being inclusive and understanding what living with sight loss can be like for an individual. There were fewer options and technology solutions back in the day, but the need for support groups, home visits, rehabilitation, mobility assessments, was the same as it is today. The emotional and practical support is still just as needed.

“I hope the service will keep running strong, offering that much-needed support and information for all patients. I expect there will be even greater advances in technologies in the future, but I do hope that my role is safe from robots!”