Glaucoma patients in Lothian face waits of up to 16 months as referrals exceed capacity

Patients in Lothian are waiting up to 16 months to be treated for a common condition which is a leading cause of blindness among over-60s.

Tuesday, 12th January 2021, 7:00 am
The Scottish Government says it cannot fund a replacement for the Princes Alexandra Eye Pavilion

NHS Lothian apologised for the long delays in people getting first appointments for glaucoma treatment and said the number of referrals was exceeding capacity.

It comes as concerns mount over the Scottish Government's decision not to fund a new eye hospital for the Capital.

Figures released under Freedom of Information show that average waiting times for a first appointment for glaucoma treatment in NHS Lothian have increased from 72 days in 2015/16 to 227 days in 2019/20.

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The statistics also show that in 2019/20, 10 per cent of patients waited more than 499 days.

Lothian Conservative MSP Miles Briggs, who obtained the figures, said: “It is extremely concerning that patients in NHS Lothian are waiting so long for routine treatments, such as for glaucoma, with some patients having to wait almost a year and a half.

“Glaucoma is a condition that gets worse the longer you leave it and people’s quality of life will be significantly affected by such long waiting times.

“Ophthalmology services in Lothian need to be properly invested in, including a replacement building for the no longer fit for purpose Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion hospital.

“NHS Lothian has been underfunded by SNP Ministers for too long and this must be addressed in the upcoming Scottish budget.”

The Eye Pavilion in Chalmers Street was deemed unfit in 2015 and planning began more than two years ago for a £45 million replacement hospital based close to the Royal Infirmary at Little France, but towards the end of last year the Scottish Government told NHS Lothian it would not be in a position to fund the project now or in the foreseeable future.

The government said the health board should pursue a more “regional” approach and suggested eyecare could be dispersed to other hospitals, including the new elective care centre being built next to St John’s Hospital in Livingston.

But that has sparked an outcry from members of the public, warning of the massive inconvenience for patients with problem vision having to travel long distances for appointments and voicing fears about the standards of excellence of the current service being undermined.

Jacquie Campbell, NHS Lothian’s chief officer of acute services, said: “We apologise for the long waits that patients have been experiencing to access the glaucoma service as we know it can be a worrying time.

“Our ophthalmology service experiences a high number of referrals each month which exceeds existing capacity and it has been a challenge to meet this demand in line with the waiting times standard. The Covid-19 pandemic has also exacerbated this capacity deficit.

“To reduce waiting times and improve our services, the ophthalmology clinical management team continually looks for ways to reduce patient waiting time, including the provision of additional clinics, further investment to increase capacity and service redesigns including community pathways to avoid potential delays to treatment.

“The service is taking all appropriate measures to improve patient care and experience and we will continue to work hard to make sure we treat everyone as quickly as possible.”

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