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Sight Scotland said although progress had been made since the height of the pandemic, official figures showed too many patients with eye conditions were still facing waits which were longer than the maximum time set by the Scottish Government.
The most recent figures for ophthalmology in the NHS Lothian area show that of patients still waiting for outpatient appointments, 6,858 had been waiting more than 12 weeks in March – the highest number since the pandemic began.
And for patients still waiting for in-patient and day case treatment there were 101 patients in the NHS Lothian area waiting more than 12 weeks in March.
Mark O’Donnell, chief executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans, Scotland’s biggest third sector visual impairment organisation, said many eye conditions needed to be treated as early as possible and called on the Scottish Government to make sure enough resources were available to tackle the backlog.
He said: “The pandemic has brought incredible pressures on our health services and our amazing NHS staff, including those who work in eye clinics.
"We welcome the fact that there has been significant progress in tackling inpatient waiting times since the height of the pandemic, but there are still thousands of patients waiting too long for treatment.
“We are particularly concerned that for people waiting for outpatient appointments for eye conditions there were still 26,000 patients across Scotland who had waited more than 12 weeks, including 6,858 in NHS Lothian, with this figure the highest since the onset of the pandemic.
“For many eye conditions it is essential they are treated quickly to secure the best outcome for the patient. This is an anxious time for thousands of patients who have been waiting months for treatment. It is vital that the Scottish Government delivers an action plan to reduce waiting times for ophthalmology which ensures eye departments have the resources and specialist staff they need.”
NHS Lothian bosses apologised to those patients affected by delays, but said the effects of the reduction in services during the pandemic were still being felt and continung Covid precautions were slowing up the current service.Jacquie Campbell, chief officer for acute services at NHS Lothian, said: “At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, ophthalmology services in Lothian, like those elsewhere in Scotland, were greatly reduced to cover emergency patients and those triaged as clinically urgent only.
“While wider service provision has resumed, the knock-on effects of the early stages of the pandemic alongside the ongoing requirement to adhere to physical distancing, as well as other enhanced infection prevention and control measures continue to impact waiting times for some of our ophthalmology patients.
“We apologise to those patients who have been impacted as a result, but would like to offer our assurance that we are doing everything we can to remobilise the service as quickly as possible. This includes running additional outpatient clinics and increasing our workforce. Through these measures, we would hope to reduce the wait for patients to be assessed and treated.”