Huge personal and economic cost of sight loss laid bare by Fight for Sight
Reducing impact of sight loss by 1% could save the UK economy billions by the end of the decade, the charity has revealed
A landmark study into the personal and economic cost of sight loss has revealed that decreasing the prevalence of eye conditions by just 1% could save the UK economy billions of pounds by the end of the decade.
The Time to Focus report, which was launched in September after 18 months of planning and research by eye care charity Fight for Sight, has revealed that sight loss costs the UK economy £25.2 billion a year. This includes costs associated with informal care, the loss of productivity as a result of barriers to the workplace, and the impact on quality of life. The amount is projected to rise to £33.5 billion a year by 2050.
There are currently over two million people in the UK living with sight loss, more than half of which is avoidable. According to Fight for Sight’s report, this number will jump to 3.5 million by 2050. In spite of this, only 1.5% of public research funding goes to eye research.
Eye conditions currently cost the NHS and social care alone £3.9 billion a year, and are responsible for 10% of all hospital outpatient appointments. Delays in accessing treatment during the pandemic have compounded these costs.
However, the charity estimates that reducing the prevalence of eye conditions by just 1% a year could avoid costs to the UK economy of up to £3.1 billion by 2030 and £9.5 billion by 2050, including £1.5 billion in savings for NHS and social care services.
The research study has highlighted the rising tide of people experiencing sight loss in the UK and the huge personal impact and wider costs to society, which have escalated during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.
Reducing the prevalence of eye conditions by just 1% a year could avoid costs to the UK economy of up to £3.1 billion by 2030 and £9.5 billion by 2050
Fight for Sight’s research covered three areas: a survey of 749 people living with eye conditions, a bibliometric analysis of more than half a million eye research publications to uncover the extent of the UK’s involvement in eye research globally, and the development of a prevalence-based costing tool, which provides decision-makers with the information they need to model sight loss and the associated cost of treatment and services.
As the research was carried out prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the charity supplemented their findings with further economic analysis from the London School of Economics and surveys with people with sight loss and with researchers, to understand the additional impact of the pandemic.
The report’s costing model for health services shows the potential future cost of sight loss by area and demonstrates how reducing prevalence through investment in research and prevention could make vast savings.
The tool highlights the lifetime costs of the leading causes of blindness. One example is the cost of a new case of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) in an adult aged 50 or over, which causes at least moderate visual impairment. The overall cost of this condition is £73,350. The lifetime cost of glaucoma is £49,800 per person. The lifetime, non-health care costs of sight loss for someone blind from birth is at least £621,384, in large part due to their education, informal care and the barriers they will experience to the workplace.
The tool is now available to download on Fight for Sight’s website, where the estimated costs associated with changes in the prevalence of sight loss, for example the economic value of a 1% reduction in visual impairment, can be calculated. This allows decision-makers to assess the cost-effectiveness of investing in interventions to prevent or reduce the impact of visual impairment.
The Time to Focus report also featured an extensive analysis of eye research publications, which showed the scope of the influence and impact UK research has on fighting sight loss globally.
On average the published outputs of the UK’s eye research receive over 10% more citations than the world average. The percentage of UK publications that are highly cited is substantially higher than the global average, meaning UK research is helping to influence researchers across the globe.
Sarah Campion, Fight for Sight’s director of engagement, told OT: “I think it's such an exciting time in eye research. There's so much research that is already making breakthroughs or is on the verge of making new ones, whether it's in gene therapies, stem cells, or emerging technologies.”
“We really feel that now is the time to be taking action. If you put more money in, we know the science is there. We know the need is there. And the talent is there in terms of the ophthalmologists and researchers who can take this forward. Now is the time to act on it.”
With this in mind, Fight for Sight is calling for urgent investment in “woefully underfunded” eye research, in order to transform lives and take pressure off an already stretched healthcare system.
Chief executive of Fight for Sight, Sherine Krause, said: “Our comprehensive research analysis proves that the UK punches above our weight in the field of eye research and that at Fight for Sight we fund some of the most impactful research in the world.
“We are calling on the government to double funding in the next decade to keep us at the forefront of eye research globally and help us reach our targets of new treatments for the leading causes of blindness in the next 10 years.”
The report also recommends that health service commissioners and providers focus on prevention of sight loss and take a holistic approach. With an ageing population and sight loss on the increase, Fight for Sight is calling for sight loss and blindness to be treated as one of the major public health issues of our time.
Ms Krause said: “This landmark report puts sight loss in the UK into focus and shows the huge financial, social and emotional cost it is having on individuals and society.
“But the true cost of sight loss is a personal one that can’t be measured in pounds and pence. Science offers so many possibilities to transform lives, and there are breakthroughs happening every day. Eye research is more important than ever in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit, and our report shows how investing in research upfront will actually make huge savings for the NHS and for the wider economy in the longer term.”
She added: “Fight for Sight’s new costing tool is open access, so we are encouraging governments, health commissioners and providers to use it to plan for the future and ensure sight loss research and services are properly funded.
“At Fight for Sight, we won’t stop until we’ve found new treatments and cures for the leading causes of blindness - but we can’t end sight loss alone. We must urgently come together – government, health services, industry, charities and researchers – to ensure sight loss research gets the attention and investment it needs.”