Scottish Government sets out how modern eye services can work as controversy continues over future of Edinburgh's Eye Pavilion

Scottish Government health chiefs under fire over their refusal to fund a new eye hospital for Edinburgh say new technology and medical advances mean many patients can now be treated just as effectively using virtual clinics and community optometrists.
The Scottish Government will not fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandria Eye Pavilion    Pic Greg MacveanThe Scottish Government will not fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandria Eye Pavilion    Pic Greg Macvean
The Scottish Government will not fund a replacement for the Princess Alexandria Eye Pavilion Pic Greg Macvean

In a briefing sent to Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs, they outline how modern eye services can be provided with staff upskilled to carry out treatment in local centres.

Mr Briggs said it all sounded good but questioned how much of it would actually happen and warned that closing the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion and not replacing it would lead to regrets later.

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The briefing says cataract surgery – which accounts for 70-80 per cent of all eye surgery across Scotland – is now undertaken as day-case surgery with patients being in the hospital only a matter of hours, whereas 30 years ago they would have been in hospital for three days.

Patients with long-term conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma can safely be reviewed in virtual clinics and imaging hubs nearer to patients’ homes, the document continues. Nurse practitioners have been trained to give injections for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and now carry out 80 per cent of such injections across NHSScotland. And highly specialised surgery is delivered on a “regional” basis.

It also says community optometrists can be the “first port of call for the review of urgent and emergency eye conditions”, noting that the upskilling of community optometrists has resulted in 44 per cent fewer new referrals to hospital eye services than in NHS England.

And it adds that tele-ophthalmology, developed by NHS Forth Valley, means community optometrists can get the opinion of hospital consultants on cases they are treating, avoiding unnecessary trips to hospital for patients.

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Mr Briggs said: “They seem to be trying to create a picture of what services will look like, but not everything can be planned. A lot of emergency eye care is just that – you have hours to save people's sight.

"Given Lothian’s ageing and growing population I’m still very concerned that we're sacrificing a state-of-the-art centre of excellence for services dispatched over the region rather than having them altogether.”

And he said he had learned to be sceptical about promises after campaigning against the closure of a specialist cleft palate unit in Edinburgh. Families said the changes had left them with fewer clinics, longer waits and more travelling.

Mr Brigs said: “A lot of things are on the table when they're trying to withdraw services, but the reality looks very different when they have shut the service down. I’m concerned we're being shown all these beautiful sweetie jars and in fact only half of them will probably ever be available to us. It’s a good picture they are painting, but I would be a bit cynical about how that’s going to be delivered.”

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He repeated his call for the decision on the Eye Pavilion to be paused. “The pandemic is getting in the way of NHS professionals being able to look properly at this. The government should not take any rash decision on the future of the Eye Pavilion because I think we will regret it if it's shut completely.”

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