Sammy Shocked By Blindness Stats For Northern Ireland
Sammy Wilson MP for East Antrim has expressed his horror at information given during a meeting with the RNIB at Westminster. Figures produced by the group show that twenty people per week in N.I. either go blind or suffer severe sight lose because treatment for eye conditions is delayed.
In some cases this is due to the individuals themselves not taking the necessary steps to have their eyes tested but more worryingly many lose their sight because of delays in treatment due to massive waiting lists for appointments with ophthalmology consultants. Between 2013 and 2016 the number of patients waiting for a first consultant led outpatient appointment has jumped from 8,000 to nearly 20,000, an increase of 145%!
The reasons for this dramatic change is first of all an aging population, secondly, the structure of the Health Service discourages opticians from carrying out some of the treatments which would avoid people having to be referred to the hospital in the first place, thirdly, nearly 8% of patients do not turn up for appointments and for one reason or other a further 16% could not attend the appointment they were given.
For some conditions such as wet age-related macular degeneration which can cause permanent sight loss in a matter of weeks or months early treatment is necessary if a person’s eye sight is to be saved yet nearly 11,000 patients have been on the waiting list to see a consultant for longer than 18 weeks.
Apart from the devastating consequence which sight loss brings to the individuals concerned there is a massive cost to the economy in terms of the loss of employment, and to the public purse in terms of increased benefit payments and adaptations to people’s homes.
The Department of Health already has a strategy entitled Developing Eye Care Partnerships which would relieve the pressure on outpatient departments and consultants in hospitals by devolving some of the treatment to high street opticians but this has not been implemented because of resource implications. The Minister must also consider what action can be taken to reduce the number of cancellations or non-appearances by those who have been allocated appointments.
Individuals also need to take responsibility for their own eye sight by regular checkups which are free of charge for over 60 year olds and also avoiding waste of national health resources by attending appointments which they have been given.
It is a scandal that up to 20 people per week in Northern Ireland are losing the most valuable of senses despite the fact that this loss could be avoided and the DUP members who attended the lobby have committed ourselves to supporting the RNIB call for urgent action on this issue.