What is the future for eye clinics after the coronavirus crisis?

Posted: Tuesday 21 July 2020

If you’ve ever struggled to get an appointment at your local eye clinic, or spent hours in a crowded waiting room, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that ophthalmology is the busiest outpatient service in the UK.

That’s not likely to change: according the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, the service is expected to see a 30-40 per cent increase in demand over the next 20 years. And social distancing measures have significantly reduced the number of people who can be seen by hospital eye services.

We've previously mentioned some of the innovative ways that eye units were dealing with an ever-rising demand for their services, including mobile units and weekend appointments to beat the backlog.

A chance for change

But the upheaval caused by coronavirus has also been an opportunity to radically redesign eye clinics, and could speed up the pace of change to benefit everyone.

Professor Andrew Lotery from the University of Southampton is calling for more investment in ophthalmology services to make this possible.

“We have already started doing lots of things differently since the start of the pandemic,” he says. “For example, many patients are already having virtual appointments, and we will need more virtual clinics moving forward.

“It will take millions of pounds worth of investment to make it possible, but the cost of blindness will be much higher.”

As well as virtual clinics, Professor Lotery said investment in new imaging equipment, to replace outdated kit, would help speed up appointment times in clinic. He adds: “We have needed investment in the hospital eye services for a long time. This might be the catalyst to do that and come up with effective ways to work so we can get to all of the patients who need us.” 

A joined-up service

Professor Lotery says that his team is also trying to improve links between community optometry and ophthalmology so that more patients can be monitored and followed up closer to home.

“We want to assess patients as much in the community as possible,” he explains. “If we could get access to patients’ OCT scans before they are referred onto us, it might stop a lot of patients coming to hospital who don’t need to. This would free up appointments for those who really need to come in for treatment.”

Other options being considered to take the strain off eye services include home monitoring apps, currently being developed by a number of companies. These would enable you to monitor your own vision at home, track any changes and send images direct to a consultant if needed.

Whatever happens in the next few months, we’ll keep you up to date with what any changes mean for you. In the meantime, if you have any questions about your appointments or treatment call our Advice and Information Service on 0300 3030 111.