Alex Lohman explains how local healthcare organisations and charities with expertise in managing specific health conditions – like sight loss and how to avoid it – can help meet the goals of the long-term plan
The prime minister, Theresa May, announced the NHS 10-year long-term plan earlier this month which included money for, among its many pledges, more “integrated support to keep older people out of hospital, living longer and more independent lives” and “a renewed focus on prevention.”
Through these measures, the government hopes it will stop thousands of people developing life threatening or limiting conditions, including the expansion of the Diabetes Prevention Programme.
As more people live longer, the intention is that care will increasingly be delivered in people’s homes or somewhere convenient, freeing up space in hospitals for those who need it most.
Prevention, as the saying goes, is often better than cure. When it comes to our health, nipping a niggling problem in the bud or better still, stopping it from arising in the first place, is a no-brainer.
And with the UK’s direct healthcare cost linked to sight loss reckoned to be at least £3bn, the case for prevention is clear.
Which is why we welcome the new 10-year plan for the NHS in England with its emphasis on prevention and early detection of serious health conditions, and hope it is adopted with vigour here in Northamptonshire.
The potential benefits speak for themselves. But it isn’t just the critical, life-threatening conditions where early intervention is so important.
In the eye care sector for example, we know that 50 per cent of sight loss can be avoided if people are better informed and have regular eye tests, together with easier access to timely and appropriate assistance.
Because sight loss increases the likelihood of other health problems, for example around mental health, a holistic, joined-up approach to service delivery is essential.
Local organisations have the added benefit of knowing the specific health characteristics of the populations they serve. They can, for example, work directly with people in their homes, helping them maintain their independence for longer – another pledge in the NHS long-term plan.
Because sight loss increases the likelihood of other health problems a joined-up approach to service delivery is essential. Local organisations have the added benefit of knowing the specific health characteristics of the populations they serve
Every day 250 people start to lose their sight in the UK. The impact on the individual can be devastating, affecting their general health and well being, their ability to work and to live independently. Yet so many people do not even have a regular eye test.
An eye test at a high street optician’s, at least once every two years, can detect problems early and keep a check on any further deterioration – and not just with your sight but also conditions such as cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the UK.
Yet the price of a test (although many don’t have to pay*) and a pair of glasses can deter people from bothering. More people attend a dentist regularly than they do an optician!
Children in particular are missing out on testing in their crucial early years. It isn’t done routinely in many schools these days, so parents need to ensure their kids see the optician too!
For elderly or frail people a visit to the optician can be a step too far. Many opticians offer testing at home, but this service needs to be more easily available and better publicised. And relatives and carers need to be vigilant to ensure that the right glasses are being used, are kept clean and in good order.
The annual retinal screening program introduced in 2006 for those with diabetes is reckoned to be saving the sight of around 400 people in England every year. But with diabetes on the increase, more needs to be done to help people with the condition understand the risks to their sight and how they can reduce them.
Local organisations can be part of solution
Meanwhile, hospital eye departments are struggling to cope with demand, including the rising numbers of treatments aimed at keeping age-related conditions under control (our older population is increasing and we are living longer).
As a result, more appointments are being delayed or cancelled.
More information and support is needed for patients and the good news is that there is a readymade solution, Eye Clinic Liaison Officers.
The importance of these roles is recognised nationally and across the country an increasing number of hospitals have ECLO provision. Unfortunately, here in Northamptonshire we don’t – at least not yet.
Hence our current campaign, in partnership with RNIB, to get much-needed ECLOs for Northampton and Kettering eye departments so that when people leave those clinics they will be better equipped to manage and cope with their sight loss.
The cost to the country of sight loss is enormous. The UK’s direct healthcare cost linked to sight loss is reckoned to be at least £3bn (from hospital prescriptions and treatments to general eye services and residential and community care).
Hospital eye departments are struggling to cope with demand, including the rising numbers of treatments aimed at keeping age-related conditions under control
Indirect costs could be as high as £25bn (relating to the impact on well being and health and also employability). Falls associated with sight loss cost the NHS more than £25m in hospital admissions.
Moreover, as we know that 50 per cent of sight loss is avoidable, surely it is in everyone’s interests to invest in prevention and early intervention as a priority in order to reap the benefits for the future?
And here at NAB we’ve got the desire, expertise, and experience to be part of the solution for Northamptonshire – as have other local sight loss charities across the length and breadth of the country.
* Eye tests FREE up to 19 if in full time education; claiming benefits such as Income Support, Job Seekers, Pension Credit; have diabetes or glaucoma; advised you are at risk of glaucoma; or over 60 or registered SSI or SI.