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Too many people are needlessly losing their sight. Transforming our eye care services must be a priority

Imagine waking up every day worrying if your vision has deteriorated a little more.

Now imagine walking downstairs and finding a letter at your front door. You open it, and to your dismay find out that the eye clinic appointment you’ve been waiting weeks for has been postponed yet again.

You worry about how much of your sight you might have lost by then, or the impact it could have on your life. Perhaps your driving licence will be revoked. You might start finding it difficult to navigate your own home and neighbourhood. You might fear never seeing the face of your new grandchild.

These worries may sound extreme, but these are all situations and worries that real people across Wales tell us that they have faced.

Every day in Wales five more people begin to lose their sight. But in eye clinics across the nation, essential appointments are being consistently cancelled and delayed, causing some patients to suffer irreversible sight loss which could have been avoided with timely treatment.

The hospital eye care service is struggling to meet the demand and treat patients with conditions which require regular treatment. Evidence suggests that 10% of new patients are at risk of irreversible sight loss compared to about 90% of follow-up patients. Continuing delays are leading to too many people in Wales losing their sight unnecessarily.

Around 111,000 people currently live with sight loss in Wales. From difficulty accessing treatment and services, to a lack of emotional and practical support, blind and partially sighted people each face their own set of challenges every day.

Feelings of isolation are unacceptably high, nearly half have experienced significant mental health problems, and only one in four blind or partially sighted people of working age has a job. 

We know the numbers of people with sight loss will increase dramatically. By 2050, the number of people with sight loss is expected to double.

But progress is being made. RNIB Cymru is proud that, in 2019, Wales became the first country in the UK to have created and implemented dedicated Eye Care Measures which prioritise ophthalmology patients based on their clinical needs. 

However, we know that one in every three patients who are categorised as being “at the highest risk” of irreversible sight loss are waiting beyond their target date for an appointment.

This can have a huge, often catastrophic impact on people’s quality of life. People living with recently diagnosed sight loss often find it hard to get out and about, struggle to maintain their jobs and hobbies, and report a drop in emotional wellbeing.

The fact that so many of these cases are preventable is unacceptable. Change can and must happen.

There are many opportunities for the next Welsh Government to be ambitious and lead the way in eye health and equality in the UK. Prioritising the needs of those most at risk in Wales is crucial. No one should face losing their sight unnecessarily because they aren’t getting the right care and treatment at the right time.

Anyone who would like to raise a concern about their cancelled or delayed appointments can contact RNIB Cymru on 029 2082 8500 or email [email protected] for more information. We encourage anyone with concerns about their sight to visit their optometrist or A&E in an emergency.

And if you are living with sight loss and need a little extra support or advice, call the RNIB helpline on 0303 123 9999.