Eyesight campaign launched by pharmacists in Wales

  • 6 July 2013
  • From the section Wales
Eye test
Image caption Nearly 100,000 people in Wales are living with vision loss - and that figure is expected to double in 25 years

High street pharmacists are joining the battle to save people's eyesight in Wales, as experts warn sight loss cases will double in the next 25 years.

Figures show that nearly 100,000 people in Wales are living with vision loss - despite it being avoidable in 50% of cases if detected early.

Throughout July, pharmacists are offering advice on eye care, especially for patients diagnosed with glaucoma.

The initiative is being backed by health bodies and the Welsh government.

"Sight loss can have a massive and detrimental impact on a person's quality of life, which is extremely sad because around half of all cases of sight loss can be prevented with early diagnosis and treatment," said Prof Sir Mansel Aylward, chair of Public Health Wales.

"Regular sight tests and education around the importance of good eye health is a priority for public health professionals.

"This is why we are working together to encourage people to get down to their local community pharmacy in July to discover the simple steps to avoid sight loss."

Official statistics recently published for Wales show that last year 16,500 people registered as sight impaired - half of them with severe sight loss.

Of the 1,500 added to the register by March last year, 75% were aged over 65.

"Sight is the sense people fear losing most, and yet many people don't know how to maintain good eye health," said Ceri Jackson, director of the vision charity, RNIB Cymru.

"The single most important thing that everyone can do is to go for a regular sight test.

"Beyond that, a healthy diet, exercise, not smoking, and protecting your eyes from the sun are all important in helping reduce your risk of sight loss."

Age concern

The latest figures on eye health in Wales showed that many of those eligible for free eye tests were not taking up the offer.

Only 30% children in Wales are getting tested, while less than half of over 60s are taking up the opportunity - even though they do not have to pay.

The issue of age is paramount - as the biggest cause of sight loss in Wales remains age-related macula degeneration (AMD).

In 2012-13, more than half of the nearly 7,000 people referred for specialist eye assessments were found to have the dry AMD condition, while a third were suffering from cataracts.

"Community pharmacies are the most accessible part of the NHS family and are ideally placed in high streets, town centres and villages around Wales to be giving advice," said Russell Goodway, chief executive of Community Pharmacy Wales.

"Where relevant, pharmacists will be recommending patients to go and see a local optometrist, and we are pleased to have this opportunity to work directly with other healthcare professionals in the high street."

The latest project comes as the Welsh government considers its own health care plan for Wales, which is expected to be published in the autumn.

It follows a year-long consultation on an eye care strategy, examining issues such as how conditions like diabetes might impact on services in the future.

It is already a major focus for the NHS in Wales, with nearly a third of more than 100,000 diabetes patients screened for vision problems in the last year found to have some degree of retina damage caused by the disease.

Overall, vision problems are estimated to cost the Welsh health service £113m a year - with indirect costs, such as the provision of care support, meaning the final bill is thought to be over £325m.

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