Health Minister, Vaughan Gething, has set-out how over £10 million of support will transform eye care services in Wales as a new performance measure is published for the first time today.
The new measure for eye care waiting times will be published to help cut waiting times and ensure those at highest risk of eye disease get the treatment and regular ongoing care they need.
To support the new measure the Welsh Government has funded health boards to invest in new ways of delivering services and new technology.
Mr Gething said:
Currently nearly 111,000 people in Wales are living with sight loss and this is predicted to double by 2050. Improving access and speeding up diagnosis are vital to ensure eye care services are fit for the future.
We don’t want people to risk their sight by having to wait a long time for a follow-up appointment after having their initial assessment. This is why we are introducing the new performance measure together with £10 million funding to transform the way we deliver eye care.
A year ago today we launched our long term vision for health and social care, A Healthier Wales, which sets out how we need to transform the way we deliver services to meet the demand of the future. These changes, developed with ophthalmologists and the third sector, including RNIB Cymru, are an excellent example of the vision set-out in A Healthier Wales.
RNIB Cymru’s Director Ansley Workman said:
We welcome the Welsh Government’s new eye care measures for NHS outpatients which set out to prioritise patients based on their clinical risk. For years patients have been telling us that they are missing out on vital treatment due to long waiting times, fuelled by cancelled and delayed appointments. This can lead to people losing their sight permanently, which could have been prevented with timely care and treatment.
We will now have data available showing the number of people who are waiting too long and allow us to see the true scale of the challenges we face. This is a major step forward for Health Boards. It is only through real transformation of our eye care services and commitment to the new measures will we be able to stop people with treatable conditions losing their sight unnecessarily.
New guidelines require hospital eye services to have procedures in place to ensure people receive their assessment or treatment by the most suitable person within a clinically appropriate time. This means those people at highest risk of eye disease who need be seen quickly due to their condition, should experience fewer delays.
The new measure is based on priority and urgency of care required by each individual patient. Priority is the risk of harm associated with the patient’s eye condition if the target appointment date is missed. Urgency is how soon that patient should be seen, given the current state and/or risk of progression of the condition.
Wales is the first UK nation to introduce a measure of this kind for eye care patients alongside the existing referral to treatment target.
The Welsh Government has provided £3.3 million to enable health boards to make the necessary changes to meet the new guidelines. This is in addition to the £7 million to introduce a new digital system for eye care in both primary and secondary care services across Wales.
The new digital system will include electronic referral from community optometry practices to hospital eye departments to connect the whole system, improve safety and speed up diagnosis and treatment.
The £3.3 million investment will be used to:
- expand or establish new community services, to ensure people are seen in the most appropriate setting and by the most appropriate person
- introducing and further developing virtual clinics
- training staff so that more professionals can carry out diagnosis and treatment