Charity wants expert to help blind patients

Anne Fairhurst
Anne Fairhurst

A charity is calling on health bosses to provide a specialist employee as blind and partially-sighted Wiganers could be missing out on advice and help.

Anne Fairhurst, secretary of the Wigan and Leigh Blind Society, wants the borough to have its own Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (Eclo) as other neighbouring areas do.

She pointed to guidance given out by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) which suggests health bodies should have an Eclo available.

Wigan Borough Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) says funding an Eclo long-term would not be financially sustainable but said other staff between them could carry out the same functions and strongly denied residents were not getting the assistance they need.

Ms Fairhurst said: “Eclos offer vital support to people who are blind or visually impaired.

“When people get an eye problem they go to the clinics and get seen by hospital staff, and sometimes they are given bad news.

“At that stage an Eclo comes in to offer emotional support with regards to the news and points them to any help and information that’s available.

“This has been a campaign going on for years but what brought it to my attention again was getting a call from an Eclo out of the Wigan area who was dealing with a patient from the borough.

“They were asking what support is available and I just thought it wasn’t right that we were being asked by other health authorities. I’m not a crusader, I just want a better service for the people I like to think I represent.

“The RNIB has basically said that every health authority should have an Eclo.

“Getting a sight problem can be very emotional at times and we don’t want someone getting a diagnosis, coming out of the building and not knowing where to turn.”

Ms Fairhurst said a committee had previously looked at setting up new services at Boston House but a suitable room could not be made available.

Her discussion with an Eclo prompted a salvo of tweets to health bosses at the CCG requesting improvements in the borough.

However, the CCG absolutely refuted any suggestion Wiganers were having to make do with an inferior service to people elsewhere in the North West.

Dr Tim Dalton, local GP and chair of the CCG, said: “We believe that supporting patients who are newly diagnosed with an eye condition is a really important part of the service of an eye clinic.

“We aim to help patients through what can be for many a difficult time.

“In some areas an Eclo is paid to offer counselling and support to patients.

“In our local low vision service, all our nurses have been fully trained to be able to offer this counselling and extra support at the time patients are diagnosed.

“Patients are also given information on how to get further ongoing support from specialist counselling services if they need it and they are helped to access the home aids and adaptations they need from social services.

“While we would love to also provide an Eclo as well as the existing support, the reality is that we don’t have the money to fund this additional role long-term.”