Wales could face a wave of blindless diagnoses, health experts report

A leading doctor has claimed Wales could face a ‘tidal wave of blindness’ unless urgent improvements are made to the way specialist eye care is delivered.

Figures, which were unveiled this week, show over 70,000 people are at-risk of losing their sight due to waiting too long for treatment – a statistic which has doubled within the last four years.

selective focus of blue-eyed person

Following this shocking realisation, the Welsh government have claimed they will be improving access to eye care services, including opening new mobile theatres and community clinics.

Against this backdrop, Wales became the first nation to introduce new eye care targets to try make sure those at greatest risk of blindness receive priority treatment. Patients are provided with a maximum waiting time date, according to their level of risk and how urgently they need to be seen.

However, research found:

  • 95% of these should be seen no later than 25% beyond their target wait – so a patient given an eight-week target should be seen within 10 weeks – including initial and follow-up appointments
  • In April 2019 there were 39,072 patients in Wales waiting longer than this – 37% of people in the most urgent category
  • Although in May 2023 that number had almost doubled to 75,339 patients – 53% of those judged to be at greatest risk of sight-loss

As well as this, figures also showed some variation between health boards:

  • In May, 41.6% of the highest risk patients in Cardiff and Vale health board were waiting longer than they should compared to 56.4% in Cwm Taf Morgannwg and 61.9% in the Betsi Cadwaladr health board area in north Wales
  • Although every health board has seen a huge deterioration since 2019 as a result of growing backlogs made worse by the pandemic

In response to this, the Welsh government said it was improving access to services, which was helping to increase the number of cataracts procedures undertaken and reduce the need for people to attend hospital.

A spokesperson from the Welsh government said: ‘We are also funding an ophthalmology simulation suite in Wales to meet new trainee requirements, enhance training and improve patient outcomes.’

Image: Amanda Dalbjörn


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