115,000 blind and partially sighted adults have been stripped of sufficient support

According to new research, vision rehabilitation sessions have become forgotten systems within local authorities across the UK.

Last week research from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) revealed over 115,000 have been robbed of the crucial support they are entitled to after being diagnosed with sight loss.

focus eye of human

Vision rehabilitation sessions, which must, by law, be provided by councils, offer a vital first line of assistance in supporting blind or partially sighted people to carry on with their day to day lives.

Experts found the system is the only social service failing to be monitored by care regulators, meaning there is no effective tracking of the level and quality of service being provided. As a result, and as the political party conference season is under way, the RNIB is calling on the UK government to take immediate action to invest in the service to ensure no one is left behind.

On a more positive note researchers found 56% of blind and partially sighted people who were surveyed had received vision rehabilitation support, however more than a third had not, with the remainder saying they were currently awaiting help, and a small number saying they had declined the offer.

In addition, where the service is being offered, it often fails to meet people’s needs due to pressures on resources. Less than half of those RNIB questioned were confidently able to move around outdoors or within their home and even less felt they could travel safely.

Against this backdrop, a mere 25% felt they could independently complete daily living tasks and half did not feel vision rehabilitation sufficiently addressed the emotional and psychological impacts that come with losing your sight.

‘When delivered well, vision rehabilitation can be a life-changing first step to rebuild confidence, offer emotional support and practical skills,’ said Vivienne Francis, RNIB’s chief social change officer. ‘RNIB receives tens of thousands of calls a year from people struggling with diagnosis.’

Ms Francis added: ‘We see people quitting their jobs unnecessarily, afraid to go out and about, losing their relationships; our counselling service is oversubscribed. It is simply inexcusable that people are missing out on the support they need, based on where they live, because their right to receive it is loosely upheld or they are unaware of the statutory support they’re entitled to. Even more worrying, even when pushing for support, they are just not receiving it.’

An example of this is Charmaine Ashpole. Based in West London, Charmaine was suddenly taken ill in 2018 with meningitis. This led to a stroke which left her totally blind in her right eye and with little residual vision in her left eye. She continued to spend four months in hospital and once she contacted her local authority rehabilitation service, she had to wait about five months for an appointment.

‘The physiotherapy at the hospital was excellent in getting me back on my feet but there wasn’t really a focus on my sight loss,’ Charmaine said. ‘I was on the waiting list for the vision rehabilitation specialist from May to October. I had two very young daughters at home, and I had been knocked for six by the whole thing. At first, I just had to sleep a lot.’

Charmaine added: ‘There is a phenomenal waiting list and like any local authority, mine is massively under-resourced. It is really worrying and concerning. I’ve had to fight for everything I got.’

Image: Jose A.Thompson

More on this topic:

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

New courses aim to improve care for deafblind population


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