HUNDREDS of Brits are going blind because of NHS backlogs, opticians warn.
At least 551 patients have suffered vision decline because of delayed appointments since 2019 in England, an Association of Optometrists report found.
Of those, 219 suffered “moderate or severe harm”, with hundreds more likely to be unreported, the group said.
One patient completely lost the sight in their left eye after their monthly injection treatment was put off by long waits.
Adam Sampson, of the AOP, said: “It’s absolutely tragic that patients are waiting, losing their vision, in many parts of the country.”
Cathy Yelf, chief executive of Macular Society, said the eye charity receives dozens of phone calls a month from patients worried delays are leading to sight loss.
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She said: “People are terrified at the prospect of losing vision.
"The ones who contact us are the ones who are actively trying to solve the problem.
“We have no idea how many people sit at home, quietly losing their vision and not making a fuss about it.
“It is a tragedy that people lose sight when there is a treatment that will help keep their vision for longer, but it is not given in time.”
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More than 2million people live with sight loss in the UK, with around 340,000 registered as blind or partially sighted.
Visual impairment can be caused by a range of conditions, including age-related macular degeneration, where the part of the eye that sharpens images becomes damaged over time.
Currently 628,502 people are awaiting ophthalmology appointments in England alone.
It is the second largest NHS backlog after orthopaedics, equating to one in every 11 patients on an NHS waiting list.
Some 27,260 of those have been waiting a year or more.
The AOP research, obtained from Freedom Of Information (FOI) requests to NHS England, looked at reports of sight loss due to delayed appointments over the last four years.
Some 99 incidents involved “severe harm” and 120 incidents caused “moderate harm”, it found.
A separate poll by the group found 57 per cent of macular eye condition patients have experienced a delay whilst waiting for an NHS appointment or treatment.
Nearly half experienced a loss or decline in vision during this time.
The group called on the Government to give more powers to optometrists to offer treatments and appointments, taking the workload off hospitals.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No one should have to suffer avoidable sight loss and we are taking action to improve access to services.
"This includes appointing a national clinical director for eye care to oversee the recovery and transformation of services so patients receive the care they need.
"We are also investing in the ophthalmology workforce with more training places provided in 2022 – and even more planned for 2023 – alongside improved training for existing staff.
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“We have made strong progress in tackling the Covid backlogs – including those waiting for eye care – with a record 2.1million diagnostic tests carried out in January.
"Thousands more patients are now being seen more quickly and the number of 18-month waits have decreased by almost two thirds since September 2021.”
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