A life-changing service, run in partnership between NHS Tayside and national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland, is celebrating a key anniversary in Dundee this week.
The Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) service in Tayside marks 10 years of helping people with sight loss come to terms with their condition and find their lives again.
"Imagine being told in a hospital eye clinic you're going to lose some or even all of your sight," said Nina McIntosh, an ECLO with RNIB Scotland based in Ninewells Hospital. Nina has sight loss herself and is a guide dog user.
"People referred to us can be distressed, confused, frightened – often very unsure what a future with sight loss can hold for them. In Tayside, that's where me and my fellow ECLO, Nicola Grimason, 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 alright, is a big thing."
The ECLO service works with clinicians and nurses in Ninewells and Perth Royal Infirmary and supports clients throughout the NHS Tayside region.
"Each person is different and deals with sight loss in different ways," said Nicola Grimason. "Giving the person time to process what's happening and reacting to them accordingly is most important. Reassuring them that you're there to support them and that, even if they don’t need that support right now, they can come back to you when they feel they are ready for it."
Dundee resident, Graham Stevenson (77) began to lose his sight three years ago due to age-related macular degeneration. "I woke up one morning and thought I'd laid heavily on my eyes when sleeping," he said. "When it didn't improve, I went to my optician and was given an emergency appointment at the eye clinic at Ninewells."
Graham now has no vision in his left eye and is still undergoing treatment to save what remains in his right.
"I'm lucky in that I can still just about get around," he said. "I had one or two accidents at home and that's where the lovely people like Nina at the eye clinic helped me. They're so kind it's just unbelievable. You do start to go down a bit and need a bit of moral support. They help you learn to accept the changes and variations in your sight.
I really would thoroughly recommend the ECLO service. It's an essential part of the package. You can't do without it.
Graham Stevenson, ECLO service user
The 10-year anniversary is chance to reflect on the work of the first ECLO in Tayside, Ann-Marie Boyd.
“It started in 2012 with Anne-Marie offering both the ECLO service and wider vision support to people with a learning disability," said Nina. "Sadly, Anne- Marie passed away in 2016, but many patients and staff still remember her caring and helpful nature, and the dedication and passion she had for her work which touched everyone.”
Ophthalmologists with NHS Tayside have also praised the work of the service.
Dr Paul Johnstone, consultant ophthalmologist and clinical lead for ophthalmology, said: "In the Hospital Eye Service I have seen patients on a daily basis who have benefitted from the tremendous support, first provided by Anne-Marie, then Nina and Nicola, in the ECLO service over the past 10 years.
"Medical treatment has its place but everyone’s goal is to support people with visual loss to lead fulfilling, independent lives. We are extremely lucky to have a visual support service within the eye clinic providing immediate help, reassurance and quality support information.
"Local community support services are continually evolving and our ECLOs are perfectly placed to signpost patients to these invaluable resources, so patients feel well supported in their daily lives when it really matters –not just when coming to hospital. The recent expansion of the ECLO service into the Perth clinics is testament to its value.
"We look forward to working with Nina, Nicola and the wider national ECLO team for many years to come."
Patients feel well supported in their daily lives when it really matters – not just when coming to hospital.
Dr Paul Johnstone, consultant ophthalmologist and clinical lead for ophthalmology, NHS Tayside
His colleague Dr Sarah Hill said: "We are so lucky to have the fantastic support of RNIB Scotland's eye clinic liaison officers, both here in Ninewells and at Perth Royal Infirmary. They provide an invaluable service supporting our patients with visual impairment. They not only have a huge knowledge-base on all the practical help these patients can access, but are also always available to provide a listening ear to anyone struggling with any emotional issues arising from sight loss.
"I know from feedback that the patients find this service very helpful and, from a personal perspective as a clinician, it makes our clinics run much more smoothly knowing we have someone available who can spend the length of time needed with a patient who is struggling."
Nina points out that sight loss has sometimes been compared to bereavement. "With our ageing population, sight loss will become more common," she said. "But with our support we can help people make the adjustment, maintain their independence and confidence, and access other services which might support them.
"With the RNIB ECLO service in Tayside, they know they're not alone."
To contact the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer service in Tayside, telephone Nina McIntosh on 07468710900 or Nicola Grimason on 078 0286 5585.