Action to cut sight loss cases with Welsh government care plan
An eye-care plan to tackle concerns people are going blind because they are not being diagnosed and treated quickly enough has been launched by the Welsh government.
Nearly 100,000 in Wales have sight loss problems and that number could double by 2050 as the population ages.
Regular eye tests and better use of opticians are among the new proposals.
The health minister said it was believed half the cases of blindness could have been prevented.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said it hoped fewer preventable problems would arise.
Figures show around 75% of sight loss occurs in people over 65 and there are worries sight problems will only get worse as the population gets older.
The plan sets out a range of commitments:
- Annual eye tests for children in special schools and giving regular tests to elderly people in care homes
- More people should be treated closer to home
- Better use should be made of the skills of opticians to reduce the number unnecessary referrals to hospital
- It also aims to improve the range of services among optometry practices and will be monitored by a task group to ensure targets are met.
Sight is the sense most of us fear losing, but the plan says many of us aren't aware of how important regular eye check-ups are.
More needs to be done according to the Welsh government to make it easier for all of us to visit the optician.
The plan makes specific commitments to offer eye tests for individuals in harder to reach groups or those at particular risks of eye problems such as children with special needs, elderly people or those from certain ethnic communities.
The goal is to meet an increasing demand - but problems are already apparent.
The RNIB charity claims that some specialist hospital eye care departments are struggling to cope.
The Welsh government's own statistics suggest that in June this year 1,437 ophthalmology patients had waited over 36 weeks to start treatment and the trend is rising.
The plan clearly states that if it's medically appropriate fewer people should be referred to hospital and more seen in the community by making more use of the skills of high street opticians, for example.
The plan has been largely welcomed by those working in the field.
However, they insist coming up with a plan is only a part of the solution - the crucial bit will be delivering it although it is somewhat light on detailed and quantifiable targets.
But there is a commitment to collect more statistics and develop a range of measures to help show whether or not the goals set out are being met and whether or not services are really improving.
RNIB Cymru director Ceri Jackson said the problem was compounded because when people were diagnosed they did not always receive treatment fast enough.
"Sadly, we do hear of people who do lose their sight who are registered blind or partially sighted because they have not been seen in the time they when should be seen," she said.
"What I hope this plan will do is place more emphasis and priority around joining up those services across primary and secondary care so we do make sure people don't lose their sight unnecessarily."
The Welsh government launched its Welsh Eye Care Service in 2002 to improve early detection rates with optometrists dealing with two-thirds of eye problems in the community rather than referring patients to hospital.
Launching the new plan, Health Minister Mark Drakeford said estimates suggested that in half the cases reported complete sight loss could have been prevented.
Mr Drakeford said: "With cases of sight lost set to increase by 22% by 2020 and double by 2050 due to the ageing population, we have to act now.
"We need to ensure more people have regular sight tests and that eye health problems are detected early.
"People need to know where they can access services, care and support in their local area and also be assured they will have rapid access to services and support when they need it."
He said the plan would ensure services were in place to prevent and treat eye sight problems.