New NHS role could help transform eye services

Posted: Tuesday 30 November 2021
Cathy Yelf, Westminster eye health day

Plans to recruit a National Clinical Director for Eye Care, which could help transform services for patients, have been revealed by Parliament.

The Macular Society has welcomed the news, which is something it has been campaigning for several years.

National clinical directors are practicing clinicians who work part-time at NHS England and NHS Improvement, providing leadership, advice, input and support across more than 30 health conditions and services, ranging from cancer and cardiovascular disease to urgent and emergency care.

Until now, there has been no representation for eye care, despite ophthalmology being the biggest outpatient department in the NHS.

Last month the Macular Society joined Roche and Fight for Sight at a Parliamentary event, where the need for a National Clinical Director for Eye Care was raised as a matter of urgency. The health minister for patient safety and primary care, Maria Caulfield, has now announced that recruitment is underway for the post.

Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society, said: “Eye clinics are now the busiest outpatient departments in the NHS and most are struggling to cope with this demand. Some are overwhelmed. With an ageing population, and more people being diagnosed with age-related macular degeneration, the demand for the service is only expected to increase.

“We are delighted by this news. This post is desperately needed in order to shape the future of eye services and ensure everybody is getting the care they need. The Macular Society has been campaigning for this post for many years and we’re pleased to finally see eye conditions being taken as seriously as other health conditions.”

Cathy highlighted how eye care services are currently disjointed, from diagnosis right through to low vision and rehabilitation, and how she hopes the new director will help join up these services to improve care for everyone.

She added: “The number of people with eye disease is expected to double in the next 25 years, and there are already people losing their vision today as a result of delays to their care. We need someone whose job it is to look after people’s eye health, draw all the fragmented parts of eye care together and ensure patients get coherent care from initial diagnosis, right through to managing their condition in the long term.”

Bryan Naylor, 84, who was diagnosed with AMD in 2014, attended the parliamentary event in October to help campaign for improvements to eye care services.

He said: “This is welcome news and long overdue. Whoever takes the job has a considerable mountain to climb. The equivalent directors for other conditions have been in place for many years so there’s a lot to catch up on. But it is a positive step in the right direction and I hope they can make the changes needed to ensure eye care services can keep up with the increasing demand for myself and others being diagnosed.”

To hear more about what this means, listen to Cathy Yelf discuss the news on BBC Radio Four's In Touch programme.