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Appointment delays ‘put thousands at risk of losing their sight’

There are no NHS targets for follow-up glaucoma appointments

Appointment delays could be putting more than 35,000 glaucoma sufferers at risk of losing their sight, figures suggest.

A review of 120 NHS trusts in England found 27 had delayed appointments for more than 1,000 glaucoma patients in the past year, while 16 had delayed appointments for more than 500 patients.

Glaucoma, which is usually caused by a build-up of fluid which increases pressure in the eye, causes irreversible vision loss by damaging the optic nerve.

It can be stopped from getting worse through surgery and laser treatment, but follow-up appointments are required to monitor patients.

In a review of ophthalmology through the NHS’ Getting It Right First Time programme, the authors said there is no national requirement to report follow-up data despite these patients having a diagnosis of a sight-threatening condition and being at considerably higher risk of losing vision overall than new referrals.

NHS targets mean newly-diagnosed sufferers must be referred for treatment within 18 weeks, but there is no such target for follow-up appointments to see if the treatment is working.

The review, published in the Health Service Journal, found only 12 out of 120 NHS trusts were able to report no delays for follow-up glaucoma appointments.

A spokesman for NHS England said: “By streamlining referrals and assessment as the NHS will be doing in 2020 it should be possible to further speed up access to ophthalmology operations.”