WIGAN has more blind or partially-sighted children than most parts of the North West.
A new study by Blind Children UK reveals that the borough has the sixth highest levels of child visual impairment in the region, with 128 youngsters up to the age of 16 having difficulties with their sight: higher than the regional average of 123. Of these 32 are blind.
The research suggests childhood sight loss is on the increase in the UK, but delays in diagnosis are leading to development being unnecessarily impaired. It also shows that because more premature babies are surviving than ever before, more children are likely to be sight-impaired at birth.
The research revealed that the number of sight-impaired children has increased by nine per cent since 2006. The biggest rise has been seen among those under the age of five where a 12 per cent rise was reported.
A quarter of the parents surveyed said that they had to wait longer than a year to have their child diagnosed with a vision impairment. Almost half of these felt this delay had a negative or strongly negative effect on their child’s development as it meant that they did not get the support needed from their local authority or school.
Dr Martin Farrier, consultant paediatrician at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Visual problems in children have been highlighted as being more common now than in decades past. The cause is said to be from improved premature infant survival, and it is certainly true that more premature infants survive now than in the past. However the survival rates now are not dramatically better than 10 years ago.
“There are many types of visual problems that occur in premature infants, the best known being Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). This is linked to the use of oxygen, but is mostly about premature baby eyes not being ready for the world when they are born. It is also notable that they get various problems with the lens in the eye commonly needing glasses to correct.
“There are screening programmes for all of these abnormalities. If problems are identified babies go for early treatment (laser treatment in the case of ROP). All premature infants are screened. The picture of visual problems is rather more complex than has been painted in the news so far. The survival of children with other conditions is better as now than in decades past and visual problems are sometimes a part of these children’s problems.
“Rates of visual problems are low, and can be altered by just a few families with a condition. For instance children with Albinism often have significant visual problems and are sometimes registered as blind. This condition runs in families and if there are a couple of families with three or four children, this can have a marked impact on the numbers of registered blind children from one area to another.”