Specialist eye hospitals must do more to help newly diagnosed blind people, a charity has warned after research found half do not offer any support to people losing their sight.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) said tens of thousands of people are not being offered the “vital” emotional and practical support needed when they start to go blind.
Every specialist hospital should have sight loss advisers so newly diagnosed people have someone to turn to in their moment of need, the charity said in its latest report titled Hanging by a Thread.
“Being told you are losing your sight can be extremely traumatic”
The comments come after its latest report found that almost half of all eye hospitals in the UK do not offer any support to people who are going blind.
Of 400 eye clinics and hospitals in the UK, just 218 have any support staff available to patients to talk to after their diagnosis, the charity said.
Eye clinics are “full to capacity” and clinical staff are under strain to diagnose and treat patients, leaving them with little time to talk with patients about how to manage their conditions and what support is available, a spokeswoman said.
The charity has called on NHS commissioners to ensure that there are sight loss advisers in each clinic. It said that it is “very concerned” that funding constraints have put these positions under threat.
“(This) could remove this vital support from patients at their greatest time of need,” warned the charity.
As well as lobbying health officials, the charity is also calling on members of the public to sign its petition calling on every eye clinic to have a sight loss adviser by 2019.
“Sight loss advisers ensure that patients are referred to local services which can help them adapt to life and can assist with providing accessible information and completing Certificates of Visual Impairment,” an RNIB spokeswoman said.
“They can also provide invaluable support in dealing with the psychological adjustment to life as a blind or partially sighted person,” she said. “The emotional impact of sight loss can be profound.”
Lesley-Anne Alexander, the RNIB’s chief executive, added: “Every 15 minutes someone in the UK starts to lose their sight but people do not always get even basic emotional and practical support at this critical time.
“Being told you are losing your sight can be extremely traumatic to come to terms with, and everyone reacts differently. No one should have to face the prospect alone or without the support they need to help them through the situation.”