Hospital managers ‘putting patients’ sight at risk’ in efforts to save money

PEOPLE are going blind due to delays in getting appointments and treatment at NHS eye clinics, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) warns today.

Its research found major concerns among medical staff, who said overstretched clinics were unable to cope with increasing demand for services.

The charity is calling on NHS England to undertake an “urgent inquiry” into what is happening and warned the NHS could face rising numbers of medical negligence claims.

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Its poll of 172 ophthalmologists, ophthalmic nurses and medical staff working at eye clinics found 37 per cent believed patients are “sometimes” losing their sight unnecessarily due to delayed treatment and follow-up care and a further four per cent said they 
believed this is happening “often”.

More than 80 per cent said their eye department had insufficient capacity to meet current demand, with 94 per cent saying future capacity is also not fit for the number of patients.

An increasingly ageing population and a range of conditions – such as diabetes – are putting pressure on services, staff said.

Some described their working conditions as “chaotic” and said they were “running from one crisis to another”.

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More than half of staff said they were trying to cope with increased demand by putting on extra clinics in the evenings and at weekends.

RNIB chief executive Lesley-Anne Alexander said: “These statistics are shameful as nobody should lose their sight from a treatable condition simply because their eye clinic is too busy to provide care in a clinically appropriate timescale.

“Hospital managers are ignoring the capacity crisis, often to save money, and are putting patients’ sight at risk and their staff on course for burnout.

“RNIB believes these shocking results should act as a wake-up call to commissioners and to hospitals. They should be aware that if they do not act soon, they could be at risk of clinical negligence claims.”

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The RNIB said patients should know their rights and be armed with knowledge about their condition.

With conditions such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the most common cause of sight loss among the over-50s – delays in treatment can lead to a dramatic sight loss in just a few weeks.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, which sets clinical standards for eye doctors, states that patients with wet AMD should be diagnosed within one week and treated within a further week.

Other conditions that need prompt attention include glaucoma, which can lead to significant sight loss, and diabetic retinopathy, a serious condition leading to loss of vision.

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Mother-of-three Dianne Woodford, who has diabetic retinopathy, has experienced numerous delays and cancellations. She has suffered from bleeds in her eyes while waiting for her next appointment.

She said: “I once had to wait a whole year between appointments despite the doctor saying he should see me in three months.

“I constantly worry that my eyes will have another bleed. Every time they bleed, I’m at risk of losing more of my remaining sight.”

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