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Saturday, 16 October 2021
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Thousands of elderly patients at risk of blindness as eye-care services threatened

A national sight loss charity has warned that thousands of elderly people could go blind if eye care services provided by the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion are disbursed across the region.

The Macular Society, which supports people living with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, has raised serious concerns that the scattering of eye-care services following the closure of the hospital in Edinburgh could leave many unable to travel the distances required to attend their sight-saving appointments.

Currently, Edinburgh’s NHS Eye Pavilion provides thousands of people affected by AMD with sight-saving eye injections, which they need to have on a regular basis, typically every two to three months. Without this timely treatment, patients can lose their sight within a matter of weeks.

With its central location and good public transport links, patients are able to access this vital treatment provided by the Eye Pavilion with relative ease. However, the 50-year-old facility is set to close, and the promise of a replacement hospital is currently unclear.

One of the proposed solutions is to disperse services from the eye clinic across the region.

Hazel McFarlane, the charity’s senior regional manager for Scotland, fears the dispersal of services means patients with AMD, many of which can no longer drive due to their sight condition, will not be able to get to their appointments.

She said:

“A significant proportion of people attend their eye clinic appointments accompanied by a family member, friend or carer.

“Should eye-care services be dispersed across the region, this will lead to increased levels of irreversible and untreatable sight loss, because those with AMD who are unable to drive will either be unable to travel the distances required to attend their appointments, or they will decline treatment because of the arduous and lengthy journeys they will have to undertake.”

Hazel also highlighted that continuity of care for these elderly patients should be a priority.

She added:

“Being seen and treated by familiar trusted ophthalmologists and nurse Injectors who have expert knowledge of their individual patients’ treatment history is vital for people diagnosed with a sight-threatening condition such as AMD, where often the practical and emotional impact is immense.”

Cleodie Mackinnon, 85, is the Macular Society’s Edinburgh Stockbridge group leader and has wet AMD in both eyes and is a patient at the eye pavilion. She has concerns about the impact of the closure on herself and the members of her group.

She said:

“Many members of the Macular Society are deeply grateful for the service they receive at the Princess Alexander Eye Pavilion. They go there for injections regularly, and for many of them, it will be more difficult to get there if services are dispersed.

“We know we’re going to a centre of excellence, and having that is what matters. We all have great faith in it. It’s internationally known, and that’s important to all of us. We’re aware that important research goes on there, and several of us have been involved in clinical trials. We know when new discoveries are made, we will have access to the treatments as soon as they are available. We cannot lose this. Any dispersing of is services would be likely to result in a lowering of standards, which could negatively affect our sight.

“Although there’s no treatment for me, I know at the moment that if anything changes, it’ll be spotted at once.”

Bal Dhillon, Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at the University of Edinburgh, said a centrally located teaching hospital was crucial to continue providing high-quality diagnosis and treatment to patients affected by AMD.

He said: 

“NHS Lothian and the University of Edinburgh work hand-in-hand to support patients with AMD and other complex diseases, which severely impact their sight and quality of life. A centrally-located teaching hospital to continue our medical and surgical ophthalmology work is essential both now and for future-proofing services in the region.”

The Macular Society is the only UK charity solely focused on funding medical research to beat macular disease, the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK. Nationwide, nearly 1.5 million people are currently affected, and many more are at risk. The disease can have a devastating effect on people’s lives, leaving them unable to drive, read or see faces. Many people affected describe losing their sight as being similar to bereavement. There is still no cure, and most types of the disease are not treatable. AMD is the most common form, usually affecting people over the age of 50.

Many people living with macular disease experience increased feelings of loneliness and isolation. The ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated these feelings.

For more information about the other services available from the Macular Society, please call 0300 3030 111 or email help@macularsociety.org.

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