Welsh Conservatives Debate: Sight Loss (3/7/19)


Thirteen people lose their sight in Wales every day, adding to the staggering fact that 111,000 people live with sight loss here. Sight loss and blindness have substantial effect on individuals. For example, over 14,000 people aged over 65 with sight loss here in Wales are thought to experience one fall annually; 40 percent of blind and partially sighted people have said that they are moderately or completely cut off from society; and according to RNIB, only one in four blind and partially sighted people work in the UK.

Every time I am back in north Wales, I am reminded of those affected by sight loss. Indeed, the town where my office is based and where I live, Llandudno, is fortunate to be home to the blind veterans’ training and rehabilitation centre; a hotel with rooms designated to visually impaired guests; and we have Mr Billy Baxter, our fabulous town crier, the only blind town crier in Europe and the second in UK history.

Now, it will come as no surprise to you, therefore, that I like to think of Aberconwy as a community that is trying and succeeding to be sight-loss friendly. However, I do fear that thousands of my constituents are being failed by the lack of appropriate treatment. Thanks to the new performance measures for eye care patients, I am aware that 11,310 patients in Betsi board are waiting beyond clinically safe levels for an outpatient appointment. That is the highest number of individuals waiting beyond targets in any health board. Sadly, the trouble in Betsi forms part of a depressing national picture in which one in three patients deemed to be at high risk

which one in three patients deemed to be at high risk of losing their sight are waiting longer than their target waiting time just for ophthalmology appointments. This is particularly bad for follow-up patients, as RNIB Cymru has estimated that 90 percent then face the risk of irreversible sight loss.

However, it is likely that the situation is even worse, as the eye care measures only show the number of R1 patients waiting to be treated, not those classed R2 or R3. Health boards and you as a Welsh Government must be held to account for these figures.

Currently, there is huge reliance on locum provision. For example, 50 per cent of unfilled staff and associate specialist ophthalmology doctor posts require locum cover in Wales; that is more than the UK average. Clearly, there is a need for a nationwide workforce and an eye care delivery plan so as to help ensure that demand is met and that health boards can tackle the crisis on a national basis.

With the numbers in need of eye care expected to rise significantly over the next decade, it is essential that action is taken now. Therefore, I implore the Members here today to support the motion so that we can all help individuals with sight loss across Wales, and, for me especially, in Aberconwy, where the problems under the care of Betsi Cadwaladr health board are significant. Again, my constituents shouldn't have to lose out in this important area.