Sight loss in the spotlight at parliament

MPs debated eye health and macular disease at a Westminster Hall debate on 11 January

Houses of parliament
Pixabay/Piero Di Maria

Pressure on eye health services in the wake of the pandemic were discussed during a Westminster Hall debate on 11 January.

The debate was organised as part of The Eyes Have It, a partnership between Roche, the Macular Society and Fight for Sight.

The event followed the Westminster Eye Health Day in October and was the next in a series of activity to promote and champion eye health amongst Parliamentarians and policy makers.

During the debate, health and social care spokesperson for the Democratic Unionist Party, Jim Shannon, shared with MPs that he has worn glasses since the age of eight and was diagnosed with diabetes 15 years ago. 

“Eye health is a matter of great importance for myself and it affects a huge swathe of my constituents,” he said.

Shannon noted that 250 people start to lose their sight each day in the UK, while half of sight loss is avoidable.

More than two million people have sight loss in the UK and 350,000 people are registered as blind or partially sighted, he added.

AMD is the leading cause of blindness in the UK, with more individuals living with the condition than dementia.

“Why should this issue be flagged as urgent for every member of the house? It is not just the physical issues it is also the financial cost,” Shannon emphasised.

The cost of eye health conditions to the UK economy is estimated to be £25.2 billion per year, with this forecast to rise to £33.5 billion by 2050. 

Shannon added that aside from the financial impact of sight loss, it can have an enormous impact on the quality of life of those who experience it.

“Sight is considered by many people to be the most important sense. For patients with macular disease who are at risk of losing their sight, they report feelings of isolation, shock, anger, anxiety and hopelessness,” he said.

MP for Darlington, Peter Gibson, also highlighted that vision loss can be detrimental to an individual’s health and personal wellbeing.

“Things that many of us take for granted in our daily lives – driving, reading, recognising faces or experiencing colour – are unfairly taken away from those suffering from loss of vision,” he said.

Gibson highlighted that the Government is taking steps to reduce waiting times for elective treatment, with £2 billion allocated this financial year to an elective recovery fund.

“The NHS National Eye care Recovery Transformation Programme should ensure that existing money will go into effectively and efficiently improving the quality of the service and the outcomes for patients,” Gibson stated.

“Through the Health and Social Care Bill integrated care boards will improve patient access and empower primary care providers to tackle eye health and macular disease quicker,” he added.

MP for Hendon, Dr Matthew Offord, highlighted that the number of people waiting for treatment for eye conditions has increased during the pandemic.

“What is most troubling for me is that clinical commissioning groups ration the number of operations for conditions, including cataracts operations,” he shared.

Sight is considered by many people to be the most important sense

MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon
Offord shared that he had high levels of myopia as a child and has received operations for cataracts and a detached retina as an adult.

“One of the issues that I have struggled with is the possibility of losing my sight,” Offord said.

“That is a really difficult diagnosis to receive,” he emphasised.

He noted that while £2 billion is promised to the NHS this year to address the elective surgery backlog, there is no specific information about funding for ophthalmology.

“We can welcome that but what I have a problem with is that ministers never identify where that money will be awarded. Eye health is not identified,” he shared.

Offord urged the Government to identify and allocate resources towards eye care.

“This would mean that we can say to our constituents, when they need us and they need the NHS… that we will be there for them,” he highlighted.

MP for Great Grimsby, Lia Nici, shared her experience of living with macular disease for the past two decades.

She emphasised the importance of attending the optometrist for regular sight checks.

“With the retina, speed is of the ultimate importance. For me, I went to the optician because when I was reading I noticed that the lines of the page of the book had a dip in them,” Nici shared.

Following treatment at Diana, Princess of Wales Hospital in Grimsby her vision improved.

“If that treatment hadn't been available I would have been registered blind now,” she said.

“The effect of those injections meant my eyes improved five lines on the acuity test.”