Calls for urgent investigation into eye services at ‘troubled’ NHS trust

Posted: Friday 28 September 2018

The Macular Society has written to the health secretary calling for an urgent investigation into eye services at a troubled NHS trust, highlighting concerns that hundreds of patients are still at risk of going blind.

The Society has penned a letter to Matt Hancock, amid news of an ongoing independent review into some of the services at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust. However, the review doesn’t currently include the ophthalmology service, which the charity has been extremely concerned about for several years.

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, has written to, and met with, senior managers at the trust on a number of occasions to raise concerns with the eye service – specifically the clinic for patients with age-related macular degeneration.

She said: “We believe hundreds of patients will have lost vision unnecessarily as a result of the poor service at this clinic.”

While many AMD clinics around the country are overstretched and under-resourced, putting patients’ sight at risk, the Society believes the situation at Royal Shrewsbury Hospital is even worse.

Cathy added: “It is a scandal that patients across the country are going blind because many services are under-resourced and under-funded.

“We’re extremely troubled that this situation in Shrewsbury is continuing and that patients are potentially coming to harm. We have expressed our concerns on this issue on a number of occasions. 

“It is very distressing for patients to be in a position where they are waiting for treatment, and when they go untreated for many weeks they will suffer irreversible sight loss.”

Earlier this year the charity obtained documents in which senior hospital staff confirmed that there was a ‘significant issue’ in the ophthalmology department causing delays could lead to ‘irreversible vision loss’ for some patients. One problem was that agreement could not be reached on whether the eye department should have its own fridge to store the drugs used to treat patients.

The documents chart the futile attempts to solve the problems from as far back as November 2016. In May 2017, the Trust papers showed that 128 patients with deteriorating eyesight waited longer than they should according to national guidelines. Prompt treatment for wet AMD is vital as once vision is lost it usually cannot be restored.

In September 2017 an email notes that the Trust was ‘going nowhere fast’ in trying to reform services for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

A report the following month said that there was a ‘significant issue’ within the ophthalmology department and that ‘large numbers of wet AMD patients are waiting longer than clinically recommended for follow up appointments’. The problems are said to have been ‘ongoing for a number of years’. Yet another paper in November 2017 said that the delays could ‘lead to irreversible vision loss’.

There appeared to be a number of reasons for the delays, including staff shortages, the increasing demand for wet AMD treatment, as well as failure to implement effective working practices.

Cathy added: “This situation has horrific consequences for patients.

“Many letters, emails, telephone calls and meetings have failed to bring any resolution to this problem. We hope Mr Hancock takes these concerns seriously and initiates an urgent investigation.”