The All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye-Care and Visual Impairment has just published a report on the state of eye care in the NHS. The heart of the matter seems to be the inconsistent and sometimes plain illogical way that services are provided. The report isn’t a bundle of laughs but makes some practical suggestions about a way forward. Yawn, yawn. Why would anyone want to know about this?
By 2020 there will be at least 2.25 million people in the UK living with sight loss. That’s going to be nearly 2% of the population. A good deal of it is preventable. In fact, the report says that 22 people a month currently become blind or partially sighted because the NHS isn’t getting it right. I thought the job of the NHS is to enable not to disable.
The report says that interventions that are time critical aren’t happening. There are inadequate supplies of drugs held in hospital pharmacies. It says there is no consistency of service and a lack of accountability. If you need an injection to keep your sight from failing, and you don’t get it, no one gets rapped across the knuckles. It says there is an unreasonable emphasis put on initial checks rather that follow up, so follow up doesn’t happen in the way it should.
This isn’t tolerated in cancer services so why is it acceptable for people to go blind?
It’s acceptable because eye health isn’t subject to the same outcome measures as cancer and in these straightened times NHS resources tend to be directed towards the areas where outcomes count. Needlessly going blind doesn’t count. It slips down the priorities because there is a lack of accountability.
It’s probably for all of these reasons that a failing appointments system is also fingered. When it’s time critical to be seen and treated, appointments being changed or cancelled by administrators without any recourse to clinicians are a common experience. Some people say they make repeated phone calls to make an appointment. Some people just don’t get their appointments at all. Never.
I can believe that. I’ve had enough difficulty booking my Virgin Media cinema experience gift. I’ve called six times and still I haven’t managed to book it. The person who takes the bookings is never there. I’ve even phoned Virgin who weren’t very sympathetic. My choices are rapidly diminishing. Now it’s a toss up between “When a Man Loves a Woman’, something about a serial killer and “From Russia with Love”. It won’t be life changing to miss out on a glass of champagne and an evening watching Sean Connery in his prime, just annoying.
Since the cinema saga began 22 people have lost their sight needlessly. Seeing Sean Connery won’t be a possibility ever for them. Some of them will have lost their sight because they got lost in the appointments system. That’s more than annoying. That’s life changing.
My Virgin voucher expires in four weeks. It’s a good job my options aren’t running out because the NHS won’t give me an appointment. If I never watch Sean Connery again it won’t worry me, but I’d like to have the choice.
You can read about what the MPs had to say about why people are needlessly losing their sight here