(Title Image: Wales Online)
In his short debate on Wednesday (3rd October), Nick Ramsay AM (Con, Monmouth) called for more to be done to avoid people suffering preventable sight loss and also for a rethink of public attitudes towards blindness and the partially-sighted.
“Sight is often cited as the sense that people would be most afraid of losing, and it can be tough. From difficulty accessing treatment and services to a lack of emotional and practical support, blind and partially sighted people each face their own set of challenges every day.
“Feelings of isolation are unacceptably high, and only one in four blind or partially sighted people of working age has a job. And we know the numbers will increase dramatically. An estimated 107,000 people in Wales live with sight loss and this is expected to double over the next 20 years. That means there will be approximately 218,000 people in Wales living with sight loss by 20502
– Nick Ramsay AM
He added that ophthalmology is one of the highest volume hospital outpatient services due to the timely follow-up appointments to prevent sight loss. He’s heard that many patients have appointments cancelled at short notice.
Rehabilitation services for sight loss were likened to a postcode lottery, with variable waiting times and a lack of futureproofing with regard to staffing.
Non-medical interventions, such as creating sight loss-friendly environments to boost confidence in getting around, were also important and would prevent falls. He stressed that while “shared space” highways sound attractive, the blind and partially sighted are unlikely to see any benefit to de-pedestrianisation or active travel.
Dr Dai Lloyd AM (Plaid, South Wales West) re-emphasised the need for timely follow-up appointments in ophthalmology as up to 90% of avoidable sight loss was happening on follow-up waiting lists.
Replying on behalf of the Welsh Government, Leader of the House, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) said a £4million package to improve eye care was announced last month. The Welsh Government accepted that waiting times were too long, but Wales is the first part of the UK with an eye care delivery plan and the first with a performance target for eye services.
The Leader of the House also outlined a number of measures to improve employment opportunities for the partially-sighted and disabled in general via the Welsh Government’s employability plan.