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Laying out the economic burden

A summary of the economic impact of sight loss and how community optometry is poised to help

Patient having an eye test

By 2050, four million people are expected to be living with sight loss in the UK, and the costs of sight loss to the economy are expected to rise to at least £33.5 billion each year.

Coupled with a growing ageing population in which eye conditions are much more likely to develop there is increasing pressure to fix the eye care emergency. We need action now.

  • There are currently 2.2 million people living with conditions that cause sight loss in the UK1, with over 615,120 people on the waiting list for a hospital eye appointment2
  • 36% of patients have been waiting over the 18-week national target for treatment and many more are waiting longer than this3
  • In December 2023, 15,599, patients had been waiting over a year4
  • Ophthalmology represents the largest outpatient backlog in the NHS with over 8 million appointments in 2022-2023and since 2019 has had the highest number of patients waiting for a follow up appointment of any consultant led specialism6
  • Currently, sight loss costs the UK economy £25.2 billion a year7
  • Due to unnecessary obstacles 2 in 5 people living with sight loss are unemployed – costing the economy up to £7.4 billion.8

The cost of treatment

Some of the most prevalent eye conditions are glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Treating these conditions is costing the NHS and social care services £1.3 billion a year.

Why we need action now

By 2050, four million people are expected to be living with sight loss in the UK, and the costs of sight loss to the economy are expected to rise to at least £33.5 billion each year.9

Coupled with a growing ageing population in which eye conditions are much more likely to develop there is increasing pressure to fix the eye care emergency.

Community optometry is well placed to achieve this change

  • Across the UK there are 6,000 optometry practices based on local high streets, easily accessible to patients, with the clinical equipment needed to provide clinical services
  • There are 17,500 optometrists registered in the UK who have four years of clinical training and qualifications that are currently underutilised10
  • Managing more patients in an optometric setting can reduce the flow of new patients into hospitals. It is estimated that ophthalmology outpatient first attendances could be reduced by around 500,000 (25%); A&E including eye casualty attendances for eye related problems could be reduced by around 350,000 (50%).11 The optometric setting can also reduce the pressure on hospitals by monitoring and treating sight-related eye conditions of patients already in secondary care.

References

  1. RNIB. Sight Loss Data Tool Version 5.2. 2023. Available from: www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/health-social-care-education-professionals/knowledge-and-research-hub/sight-loss-data-tool/
  2. www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/statistical-work-areas/rtt-waiting-times/rtt-data-2023-24/#Nov23
  3. Ibid
  4. Ibid
  5. NHS Digital. Hospital Outpatient Activity 2022-23: All attendances. Available from: www//files.digital.nhs.uk/C9/49D3E3/hosp-epis-stat-outp-all-atte-2022-23-tab.xlsx
  6. www.reform.uk/publications/the-hidden-waitlist/
  7. Fight for Sight 2023 www.fightforsight.org.uk/news-and-articles/articles/news/the-cost-society-pays-for-underfunding-sight-saving-research
  8. Ibid
  9.  Source: AOP