People could be at risk of losing their sight due to their fears of going to hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is urging people to continue attending scheduled eye appointments.
Every 15 minutes someone loses sight in the UK and shockingly, 50 per cent of sight loss avoidable. 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.
According to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, in Northern Ireland 20 people have been phoned just to get one person to come in for their surgery.
It’s extremely important for people to attend their eye appointments and clinics and hospitals are taking every precaution to keep patients safe and adhere to social distancing guidelines.
Daphne Shilliday (77), from County Down, has regular injections to treat Age Related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and recently attended the Macular Clinic at the Mater Hospital in Belfast.
She commented: “I really treasure my eyesight. It’s so important in maintaining my independence and overall quality of life. To be honest, I was really anxious about going for my appointment, but now I’m so glad I did. From the minute I stepped through the door the staff were reassuring and professional.
“The nurses who met me were wearing their PPE equipment and the waiting area was clearly set out so that social distancing could be maintained. I felt safe. I was seen to quickly and the time in the clinic was shorter than usual.”
She continued: “I know that older people like me, many of whom will have spent long weeks at home self-isolating, will feel a sense of trepidation about going to their appointments. I can’t make that decision for anyone else, but maintaining our eyesight is so important and macular clinics are taking all the precautions possible to keep us safe.”
RNIB NI Director Jackie Witherow said: “It is extremely important for people to attend scheduled appointments or to seek 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.
“As Daphne points out, the systems are in place 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.
“Additionally, we’ve been working closely with the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) on an #EyeCareWeCare social media campaign to ensure that accessible information about eye care services is available to help people find the support they need.”
Karen Toogood, Senior Regional Manager in Northern Ireland for national sight loss charity the Macular Society, added: “The number of people affected by macular disease in Northern Ireland is huge and it is a problem which is only getting worse – without the threat of a pandemic.
“We fear that after the coronavirus crisis thousands of people will be left blind because they have missed appointments. While we understand people’s concerns, we know eye clinics here are doing everything they can to ensure patients receiving injections are kept safe and have heard many positive things from people still attending. We have spoken to a lot of our members and volunteers who have been encouraged by what they’ve experienced.”
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.
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.