Eye health crisis set to deepen

ONE in five people will live with sight loss in their lifetime despite at least half of all cases being avoidable , warns a new report published by charity Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and high street opticians Specsavers.

The alarming new statistics show that every day 250 people start to lose their sight in the UK. Women, who tend to live longer, are at greater risk than men, with one in four women set to develop sight loss in their lifetime compared with one in eight men.

Almost six million people in the UK currently live with sight-threatening conditions yet 25 per cent of people are not having an eye test every two years as recommended by the College of Optometrists . The extent of the problem means that nearly every family in Britain is touched by sight problems in some way.

RNIB acting CEO Sally Harvey says: ‘Our report reveals new evidence that one in five people will live with sight loss in their lifetime, so our work is now more important than ever. The eye health crisis looks set to deepen and the cost burden is destined to soar unless urgent action is taken.

‘Almost 80 per cent of people living with sight loss are over the age of 64 , so with an ageing population that is expected to retire later, more of our national workforce will be impacted by sight loss. Alongside rapidly growing demand for eye care services, and capacity problems in some clinics at a time of growing budget deficits, we are facing an extremely challenging time for eye health in the UK, and we must take action now.

‘We will continue to press for integrated services and effective referral and treatment for local communities as a key way of tackling the capacity problems in hospital eye departments. We will champion active planning that is based on the eye health needs of local communities and we will present conclusions from our policy roundtables to a parliamentary Inquiry on eye health services.’

The State Of The Nation Eye Health 2017: A Year in Review report, launched ahead of National Eye Health Week (18 – 24 September), is an annual benchmark of Britain’s eye health by RNIB and Specsavers, who joined forces in 2016 to raise awareness of the importance of eye health at every level to help prevent avoidable sight loss.

While a YouGov survey commissioned for the report suggests 1.1 million more people took action to improve their eye health by visiting an optician since the campaign launched last September, there is much still to be done, according to Specsavers founder Doug Perkins.

An optometrist for more than 50 years, he says: ‘We are calling on political leaders, senior decision makers in health and social care, and local champions to work together to ensure that people receive timely treatment to prevent avoidable sight loss.

‘Without this leadership the eye health crisis will continue to worsen and patients’ sight will be put increasingly at risk, deepening the economic burden that we already estimate will rise from £28 billion today if nothing is done now.’

TV presenter and journalist Anne Robinson is supporting this year’s campaign as eye health ambassador. Her own family experience of eye health problems saw her Irish godfather, who had a love of horse racing, lose an eye through cancer.

Anne says: ‘It was really sad – not only could he no longer watch television, but he couldn’t look up the form or do all the things he usually loved to do. This needn’t have happened as science has progressed so far that if he’d have been having regular eye tests he could have enjoyed those racing programmes until he died.’

Anne’s father also struggled with sight loss. After years of ignoring his vision problems he decided to have his eyes tested on a family trip to London. The optician discovered that he had cataracts and referred him for surgery to remove them.

Anne adds: ‘Neither of my parents went for regular eye tests. My father had been a teacher all his life until he retired so reading, as it is to all of us in our family, was terribly important. He’d missed out on reading newspapers and books. Sometimes, as you get older, you don’t admit that you’re struggling. Looking back, he clearly knew something was wrong. With the cataracts gone he could read comfortably again.

‘I now know that all of us, from the age of three, should be having our eyes tested regularly because of what an optician can detect.’

Further details are available at https://www.specsavers.co.uk/eye-health/RNIB