Row breaks out over eye therapy hold-ups

Eye with macular degeneration
Eye with macular degeneration

HOSPITAL chiefs have hit out at claims that elderly patients risk going blind due to treatment delays.

A survey by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Macular Society charity found that three-quarters of doctors say patients suffering with the aggressive wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) had to wait more than the recommended two weeks for their first sight-saving injection.

But bosses at Wrightington Wigan Leigh NHS Foundation Trust say that despite concerns in the past all patients in Wigan were seen within the two week period as set out by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Rising demand from an ageing population and financial pressures mean patients suffering from conditions such as AMD – which can cause blindness if left untreated – are not getting the help they need in time, it is claimed.

AMD is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, with the wet form affecting about 40,000 new patients each year. The dry type of AMD is more common but less severe and slower in affecting vision.

A WWL spokesman said: “There is a high demand for patients with AMD to be treated in the UK. However, at Wigan Eye Unit, we are fortunate that we have foreseen this and trained up four additional staff to support our existing staff cope with this demand.

“Our AMD service has been running since 2004 and for a large part of that we have been seeing patients within the two week NICE guideline and we have a fast-track AMD clinic, to where these patients are immediately referred. In the last 12 months, our AMD Service has carried out extra 756 treatment compare to 12 months before.

“This is 40 per cent increase in comparison.

“As of today we have no backlog of AMD patients and all of our patients are seen and treated within the NICE two week guideline. We continuously review our services and any increase in demand will be dealt with accordingly.”

The survey of 226 consultant ophthalmologists found more than three-quarters blamed medical staff shortages for the delays. More than half also said that NHS managers do not give wet AMD a high enough priority.

Bernie Chang, of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said: “Most ophthalmic departments are finding it difficult to cope with demand for this treatment and a third are now using non-medical staff to give injections.

“We need a significant increase in capacity to be able to deliver services that are sufficient, as well as efficient. It is essential not to give this treatment late as vision will be lost unnecessarily.”