Coleraine optometrist highlights vision crisis in Northern Ireland

Experts warn the impact of the pandemic is a ‘ticking timebomb’ on eye health, as new data is released.

Judith Ball, director at Specsavers Coleraine, is highlighting the stark findings from a national report which shows there were 4.3 million fewer eye appointments during the pandemic – with 82,894 of missed appointments at Specsavers in Northern Ireland.

The State of the UK’s Eye Health Report 2021, commissioned by Specsavers in collaboration with leading eye health experts and charities, counts not only the additional financial burden now facing society as a result of the pandemic, but more worryingly, the very real cost to people’s sight.

UK wide, it shows that almost 3,000 people (2,986) are estimated to have lost their sight due to delayed identification and treatment of eye disease during the pandemic and more than 300,000 (316,000) people have missed referrals for ophthalmology services. It predicts that there will be a £2.5 billion estimated additional economic cost of sight loss and blindness due to the pandemic between 2021 and 2024.

Judith Ball, director at Specsavers Coleraine

Judith said: “As comprehensive as this report is, we, along with our colleagues and partners across the eye health sector, suspect these early findings are just the tip of the iceberg. The pandemic meant that eye care services in the UK were withdrawn, reduced or restricted, and despite Specsavers being open for care throughout the pandemic, our stores alongside other high street opticians, saw a drop of almost 25% in eye tests across the sector.

“This has led to a reduction in referrals and the treatment of serious, and sometimes symptomless, eye conditions that can lead to irreversible and permanent sight loss if not detected and managed in time. The eye health sector, and the NHS, has a ticking timebomb on its hands.”

The findings are being reflected locally with up to date figures showing 4,730 people are living with sight loss in the Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council area. It also shows 1,550 have glaucoma, 9,350 have age-related macular degeneration and 1,540 have cataract.

Yet, despite this many people in Northern Ireland are still not making their eye health a priority.

Ahead of National Eye Health Week (September 20 to 26) Specsavers commissioned research, carried out by OnePoll, which reveals 39% of people in Northern Ireland have delayed having an eye test, knowing that they were due to have one or feeling like they should have one.

Reasons for doing so included fearing being told their eyesight had worsened (15%) and being wary of busy social situations (27%). However 53% said they would be annoyed at themselves for ignoring the symptoms of an irreversible health condition.

Despite this, many people in Northern Ireland have ignored or tolerated symptoms including floaters in their eyes (33%), headaches or migraines (29%) and eye fatigue (29%).

And worryingly 14% of those surveyed think they might have a serious underlying sight issue that they haven’t had looked at because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Judith added: “Regular eye tests are so important. If people in Coleraine have missed their appointment during the pandemic, I urge them to book. We are still adhering to strict safety precautions in every one of our stores. It’s important people keep having regular appointments – even if they don’t think anything is wrong – as many conditions are symptomless in the early stages.”

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