Half of all sight loss is preventable – investment in our nation’s eye health must be a priority
I am calling on the government to urgently commit to obtaining the data we need to understand our nation’s eye health and the reasons people are still going blind due to preventable conditions.
In the UK over 2 million people are living with sight loss. On this World Sight Day 2021, I want to raise awareness of the importance of good eye health and the need for regular eye tests.
As someone who has been living with Nystagmus all my life – a condition which causes a repetitive and involuntary movement of the eyes – eye health is a topic close to my heart.
I have spent my career fighting for the rights of disabled and visually impaired people, in parliament and beyond, yet there is still so much more that needs to be done to protect our nation’s eye health.
The number of people at risk of losing their sight is on the rise
Shockingly, 50 per cent of all sight loss is avoidable and, due to an ageing population and the impact of the pandemic, the number of people at risk of losing their sight is on the rise.
In 2020, 4.3 million people missed their eye tests and recent polling shows that Brits fear losing their eyesight more than any other sense. However, most take little to no action to prevent it.
When presented with options on how to prevent sight loss, a large majority (81 per cent) selected regular eye tests. Despite this, only a quarter ranked having regular check-ups with an optician more important than checks with doctors and dentists..
Every day 250 people begin to lose their sight. Those with potentially avoidable sight loss do not have time on their side. Many do not realise that swift treatment, often within two weeks, is needed to prevent vision from deteriorating further. That is why it is so important that the NHS has the tools it needs to ensure nobody loses their vision unnecessarily.
We need to raise more awareness, from the importance of regular eye tests, through to developing a more joined up system, with more patients being treated outside of hospital to free up capacity for the most urgent cases. As it stands, ophthalmology is the busiest outpatient service in the NHS.
A 2018 census by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists found a severe shortage of eye doctors in the UK, with 230 extra consultants and 204 staff and associate specialist posts required. Too many patients are sent to hospital for treatment when they could be treated in the community or at home, adding extra pressure to consultants’ time. This means that hospitals must continually prioritise the most urgent cases, leaving many patients with deteriorating sight unable to receive treatment.
Despite the clear need for these services, eye health is far from being a government priority. We need urgent investment in gathering data on our population’s eye health. In the UK, we have a severe shortage of knowledge of where the need is. Without reliable up-to-date data, we can’t plan our services in the most effective way, improve outcomes for those at risk or properly target funds and resources. Consequently, the UK loses a preventable 28 billion pounds a year treating sight-loss.
Today, I am calling on the government to urgently commit to obtaining the up-to-date, reliable data we need to understand our nation’s eye health and the reasons people are still going blind due to preventable conditions. I ask that they engage with, and fund, a UK National Eye Health and Hearing Study, the first population-based study designed to understand our nations eye health.
How can we only rely on NHS patient data or data sets from other countries to reach all those at risk across our nation, including those with unmet needs?
To mark World Sight Day, as chair of the APPG for Eye Health and Visual Impairment, I will be hosting a drop-in event when Parliament returns on Tuesday 19th October, 12pm-3pm.
Marsha de Cordova is the Labour MP for Battersea and chair of the APPG for Eye Health and Visual Impairment.
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