‘Treatment Delays’ mean more patients are going blind, says RNIB

15 November 2013

‘Treatment Delays’ mean more patients are going blind, says RNIB

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) has undertaken research that they feel indicates people are going blind due to delays in getting appointments and treatment at NHS eye clinics.

The charity uncovered evidence via their research that clinics were struggling with their existing capacity and so could not cope with increasing demand for services.

The RNIB is now trying to encourage NHS England to undertake an "urgent inquiry" into their findings, with the warning that the NHS could be burdened with a rising numbers of medical negligence claims.

The RNIB undertook a poll of 172 ophthalmologists, ophthalmic nurses and medical staff who were working at eye clinics. The findings of the poll revealed that 37% believed patients are "sometimes" unnecessarily losing their sight because of delays to treatment and lack of appropriate follow-up care.

A further 4% of staff in the poll said they believe this is happening "often".

In the poll, over 80% of those surveyed felt their eye department did not have the capacity to meet current demand, with 94% saying future capacity levels were unfit for the number of patients.

Other opinions gleaned from the poll findings were that that the working conditions were "chaotic" and felt that staff members were "running from one crisis to another".

RNIB Chief Executive Lesley-Anne Alexander said: "These statistics are shameful as nobody should lose their sight from a treatable condition simply because their eye clinic is too busy to provide care in a clinically appropriate timescale.

"Hospital managers are ignoring the capacity crisis, often to save money, and are putting patients' sight at risk and their staff on course for burnout."

The RNIB said one way to combat the staffing issues and the problems arising out of over capacity was for patients themselves to understand their rights, and know more about their own eye conditions.

Particularly with eye related issues, the scope for medical negligence because of lack of appropriate and swift action can be vast. For example, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists is an organisation that sets clinical standards for eye doctors and they state that patients with wet AMD should be diagnosed within one week and treated within a further week.

Another example might be glaucoma, which requires swift attention after diagnosis and which can lead to significant sight loss, with diabetic retinopathy, being a particular problem where the condition itself can lead to a loss of vision.  

A Royal College of Opthalmology spokesperson said: "Whilst we recognise that there are some capacity issues, this is sometimes a result of new treatments and procedures which are now only available and not before.

"Patients may have to be seen more regularly for specific treatments for macular degeneration or diabetic retinopathy, to receive sight-saving injections on a monthly basis."

An NHS England spokeswoman said: "Clearly eye care is a critical matter for patients and can have long-term effects on them, their families and the health service.

"We would expect CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) to ensure that patients in their area have the ready access to the level of service that they require but it is important that these are commissioned locally to meet local needs."

If you have experienced any form of medical mistreatment at any NHS trusts or hospitals, or want to better understand exactly what your patient rights are, Mistreatment.com are pleased to offer advice and support to you. Our specialists have wide experience of providing advice and support across a number of areas relating to potential medical mistreatment, such as misdiagnosis and delay and surgery errors, for example.