People at risk of losing sight due to fear of hospital during coronavirus pandemic

Post date: 
Tuesday, 2 June 2020

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is calling for people to continue attending scheduled eye appointments after research shows that people are missing vital treatment due to fear of coronavirus.

According to the UK Ophthalmology Alliance, ophthalmic professionals across the UK have found that up to 50 per cent of people with acute or urgent eye conditions, including retinal detachments or age-related macular degeneration (AMD), have not been attending appointments during lockdown due to concern around coronavirus. However, these patients require urgent care to prevent permanent sight loss.

Additionally, since the onset of the pandemic, RNIB’s Eye Health Team has heard from people who have either missed appointments or not sought advice from their optometrist, despite their vision having deteriorated.

Helen Lee, Policy and Campaigns Manager at RNIB, said: “It is extremely concerning to hear that people are not attending appointments or seeking advice for sudden changes in their vision. The treatments being missed have the ability to stabilise conditions and keep people from losing their sight unnecessarily.

“The precautions put in place by NHS England are there to help patients and medical staff keep safe during the ongoing pandemic. We strongly advise people to attend their appointments or to discuss any concerns they have with hospital eyecare staff. We are calling on the Government to include information about eye care in the NHS Open for Business communication campaign.”

The charity has heard from an 88-year-old woman living with glaucoma, who has experienced a rapid decline in her sight since her last appointment at the end of March. She lives alone, and her sight has deteriorated to a point where she is no longer able to distinguish detail.

Another woman, also in her 80s and living with glaucoma, has been experiencing discomfort in her affected eye, as well as her vision having worsened. Her daughter, who has also been delivering her food shopping during the pandemic, called RNIB on her mother’s behalf, due to no longer being able to see well enough to use her phone, for advice about her symptoms.

In both cases, the women in question were under the impression they couldn’t contact the hospital due to believing that only coronavirus patients were being seen.

With eye care services looking set to reopen in a matter of weeks, RNIB is highlighting the provisions being put in place by NHS England in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Some of the precautions include having fewer people attending at one time in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines, reducing the amount of time patients and consultants spend together, only providing central treatments for eye conditions and reducing waiting times.

Melanie Hingorani FRCOphth, Consultant Ophthalmologist and Chair of the UK Ophthalmology Alliance, said: “Post Lockdown, the capacity for hospital eye services will still be very limited due to our need to work differently to keep patients and staff safe. The hospitals are providing appointments to patients where the hospital feels it is most important or where the patient could be at risk of harm to their sight if they are not seen, so it is really important to attend if an appointment is offered.

“However, I want to reassure patients that eye units are taking every possible precaution and the risk of catching Covid-19 in an hospital eye clinic is extremely low.”

For more information on what to do if you have concerns about your sight during the coronavirus pandemic, call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit rnib.org.uk/eyehealth.

Notes to editors

All media enquiries to RNIB's PR team on 0207 391 2223 or pressoffice@rnib.org.uk. Or, for urgent enquiries out-of-hours, please call 07968 482812.

About RNIB

We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).

Every six minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. RNIB is taking a stand against exclusion, inequality and isolation to create a world without barriers where people with sight loss can lead full lives. A different world where society values blind and partially sighted people not for the disabilities they’ve overcome, but for the people they are.

RNIB. See differently.

Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk