People going blind as they are 'too scared' to see a doctor or optician

Posted: Sunday 24 May 2020

Clinicians have said that attendance rates have dropped dramatically for those needing urgent treatment, without which they will go blind.

People are going blind for the lack of basic eye checks as they are too afraid to travel to a hospital or optician. Specialist doctors have told the Telegraph that people risk irreparable damage to their eyes as waiting rooms which were usually full, are now almost empty.

One eye clinic reported that half of their patients with macular degeneration are failing to attend essential treatment, without which they will go blind. One doctor told the Telegraph that he had seen a drop off of around 90 per cent, and that it had been four or five weeks since he had seen a single patient referred for their first vital appointment after being referred from an optician.

“Patients with wet type macular degeneration, need to be seen regularly in the eye clinic to decide if they need the injections, and to be treated so that the vision stabilates at that level,” said Professor Sobha Sivaprasad, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital.

“If they don't attend these visits then it will have a lasting impact on their sight. These conditions are sight-threatening “In a clinic we'd see about 100 patients each day and was always overbooked, half of those were not coming in.

“They're not coming in because of fear-whether that's of public transport, getting the infection just getting out of their house.”

Macular diseases are by far the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, with nearly 1.5m people estimated to be living with some form of the condition. Every day, around 300 people are diagnosed with macular disease. It can affect people of any age – even children – and there is still no cure.

'My sight had deteriorated, and I don't want to go blind.' Cilla Shell worked for 14 years in clinical governance within the NHS. The 68 year-old from Hornchurch said that she was scared to go to hospital for her routine appointments. “To explain it in my eyes, when I look at the top of my telly there's a great big bump, if I look into the horizon across the sea, it looks like there's a mountain at the back,” she said.

“I was dreading my appointment at the beginning of coronavirus, I was thinking I really didn't want to go.

“The procedure is an injection in your eye and there are reports that coronavirus enters through your eye.

“During that time my sight had deteriorated, and I don't want to go blind. “A lot of people travel by public transport. I think their biggest fear wouldn't be going to hospital but how they're getting there.”

This follows the plummeting of A&E attendances as patients avoided hospitals during lockdown, as well as warnings from Cancer Research UK that the number of patients being referred for cancer checks and appointments had dropped by 75 per cent. Though many opticians are not taking regular tests for some people, some are still responding to emergency requests.

A retinal specialist at a hospital in the Midlands was chastised by bosses at his hospital for raising concerns about the lack of patients being referred from opticians, as unless the disease is caught and treated early, it can do irreparable damage to the eyes.

“I had discussions with patients who came late who say they were frightened of going to the optician because they thought they may catch the virus there, they didn't even trust friends or relations to get them there,” he said.

“As far as we can tell is a 90-95% reduction in the number of patients I've seen coming from opticians.

“You can keep some vision for reading and driving if it is caught early, but if it's left then the patient can be left unable to see faces, let alone read. These visits are an emergency situation.

“We had a waiting room area of 50 chairs with four people at the most. For more or less four or five weeks we didn't have a single person come in.

“I reported this to the chief executive of the hospital and got told off for bringing the matter up.

“What needs to happen is the Government and the NHS needs to address this as a whole. They've terrified people and they need to move things the other way.”

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “This is not routine treatment; this is urgent treatment and people avoiding attending their appointments are putting their sight at great risk. “While we understand people’s concerns we know eye clinics across the UK are doing everything they can to ensure patients receiving injections are kept safe and have heard many positive things from people still attending.”

This article appeared in today's Sunday Telegraph and is available online. 

If you have any further questions about your condition or treatment, call the Macular Society's Advice and Information Service on  0300 3030 111.