An eye on the clock

The importance of patients seeking timely treatment has been reinforced by an anecdotal rise in patients ignoring symptoms during lockdown

clock and calendar

As practices across the UK reopen for routine appointments, optometrists may start to notice an increase in the number of patients presenting with worsening conditions after failing to attend practice during the COVID-19 lockdown.

Four in 10 people have admitted to being worried about causing a burden to healthcare services during the lockdown period. As a result, the NHS launched a campaign to encourage the public to seek help if needed, with a warning that they could be risking a long-term impact to their health if they fail to seek treatment for urgent care needs.

The reality of the situation is reflected when it comes to eye care. Felipe Dhawahir-Scala of Manchester Royal Eye Hospital (MREH) told OT in May that the hospital’s walk-in emergency clinic had seen a reduction from around 110 to between 35 and 40 patients a day. MREH also saw the number of patients attending with retinal detachments half.

What is the reason for this? Of course, there could be multiple factors to explain why patients haven’t been seeking care over the past few months. As mentioned, many were reluctant to put extra pressure on health services while the COVID-19 crisis was at its height. OT has also heard reports that many patients have assumed practices on the High Street were closed completely, rather than being open for urgent and essential care as many were throughout the lockdown.

Stories from Northern Ireland suggest patients were nervous about attending macular clinics because of proximity to Belfast’s main COVID-19 treatment centre, with ophthalmologist Tunde Peto also raising her concerns over a fall in the number of patients attending with retinal detachments.

Meanwhile, optometrist and director of Sutton Coldfield’s Malcolm Gray Optometrists, Steve Wright, has told the AOP and OT of a surge in wet AMD cases presenting in practice in recent days, with patients admitting that they had symptoms during the lockdown but decided not to act on them.

Whatever the reasoning, it’s clear that both optical practices and hospital eye departments need to be prepared for a potential onslaught of patients whose conditions might have worsened during the lockdown – and who might require longer term or more complex care because of it. With the possibility of further local lockdowns like the one in Leicester looking increasingly likely, practices may now want to consider how they communicate directly with patients to ensure that they feel confident in attending if they do notice symptoms.

If you’ve noticed that patients are now attending appointments with increased symptoms after failing to seek urgent or emergency care during the lockdown, please feel free to share your story with us. You can do this by contacting the OT newsdesk or posting on our forum.

OT  asks...

As practices have opened for routine appointments, are you coming across patients with symptoms that indicate they delayed seeking treatment during lockdown, for conditions such as wet AMD?
  • Yes, a patient or more each day

    10 16%
  • Yes, but not every week

    26 43%
  • No

    13 21%
  • Yes, up to six patients each week

    11 18%