Loss of vision or visual impairment can be one of the most devastating and frightening things that can ever happen to you. The human eyes are an extraordinary organ. They make approximately 200,000 movements per day and are able to distinguish around 10 million colours. The impact of having this all taken away can be profound and can completely alter one’s relationship with their own surroundings, tragically supplanting mindscape for perceived reality. Many people take their eyesight for granted and do not always think (or like to think) about what would happen if it disappeared one day.
There are in existence a number of charities that support people with blindness or visual impairment. The RNIB (The Royal National Institute of Blind People) are one of the best known.
Their purpose is to try and make daily life better for people affected by sight loss. They campaign for better services and a more inclusive society. They also campaign to raise eye health standards in order to prevent sight loss in the first place. This is an objective that I as a specialist medical negligence lawyer with experience handling ophthalmic injury claims consider entirely laudable.
They provide this help against a backdrop of an all too familiar climate of funding cuts to government services, including the NHS and social care, notwithstanding increased demand brought on by an ageing and growing population. This is leading to problems as supply fails to keep pace.
Generic examples of sub-standard treatment can often include failures to effectively communicate between primary and secondary care and failures to inform patients of the importance of follow-up appointments. What are often ‘small’ things can often have devastating long term consequences.
Last year for example, the President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists warned that hundreds of patients each year were permanently losing their sight because eye specialists were becoming overstretched and under-resourced. She gave examples of patients suffering loss or deterioration of sight due to increased waiting times for ophthalmologist appointments, with a study result citing that across the UK, at least 20 patients per month unnecessarily suffer severe visual sight loss which in itself, then further burdens the NHS through the need for long-term repeat appointments for close monitoring and eye care. Paying more to pick up the pieces simply constitutes a false economy.
The tragedy is that so much suffering could be avoided with better targeted investment for front line ophthalmic services as well more advanced forms of treatment. There are positive examples of how things could work better such as improved IT connectability and expanded uses of optometrists, orthopists, and ophthalmic nurses for disease treatment not to mention new anti-vascular endothelial growth factor injections for age-related macular degeneration.
Over the past 4 years or so, I have regularly volunteered for the RNIB by fund raising at events, acting as a guide for the visually impaired at the annual Vision UK Conferences in London, and helping to raise awareness about eye health issues in blogs such as this one.
I would encourage anybody reading this to get involved and help the RNIB in any way you can. For example you might wish to support one of their excellent eye health campaigns, which include:
- Ask and Tell
Patients with eye conditions often lose some or all of their sight as a consequence of cancelled or delayed appointments at their local hospital’s eye department, particularly in our overstretched NHS. The RNIB are working with other experts in the eye care sector (including the International Glaucoma Association and the Macular Society) to tackle this problem by empowering patients to have the confidence and knowledge to speak up for themselves, to ensure that appointments occur within the timeframe they are supposed to happen to help prevent avoidable sight loss.
Please see the following link for more information: http://www.rnib.org.uk/askandtell
- Removing Arbitrary Restrictions on Cataract Surgery
More than half of all the people over the age of 65 in the UK have some degree of cataract. It can also occur in babies as result of pre-natal infection or infection in early childhood. Secondary cataracts can develop in adults as a result of other diseases such as diabetes or long-term exposure to toxic substances or certain medications. Surgery to remove cataracts is generally safe and produces excellent results when successful. In 2013/14 the NHS carried out approximately 304,179 cataract operations, saving the sight of hundreds and thousands of people.
The RNIB is however concerned that cataract treatment is under threat. Due to NHS spending cuts, their research shows that the provision of cataract treatment across the UK is arbitrary with some people lacking access to surgery and being forced to live with avoidable sight loss. They are quite rightly campaigning to avoid this.
RNIB is most grateful to Moore Blatch for its support of our work with blind and partially sighted people across the UK. Loss of sight has a substantial impact on people’s quality of life. Eye health is everyone’s business; you can play a part in preventing avoidable sight loss by joining RNIB campaigns, just visit www.rnib.org.uk/campaigns.
Jessica Hall, Policy and Campaigns Officer, RNIB Eye Health Campaigns.