Why are so many people losing their sight unnecessarily due to a treatable condition, wet age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD)?
This is the central question addressed in a new report from RNIB entitled: Don't lose sight! Don't delay!'
For once, the answer does not involve the NHS spending a lot more money. Rather, the solution lies in raising awareness of the disease among patients and health professionals, with a major role for primary care and community nurses in spotting the signs of wet AMD in their patients.
RNIB's report shows that far too many patients with wet AMD fail to recognise the signs of the disease and the need to seek help urgently.
Wet AMD can affect people's vision in different ways and these are the signs that patients may mention: their central vision is blurred and straight lines appear wavy or fuzzy; their eyes are sensitive to light; they struggle to recognise faces or see small print in newspapers; their overall vision is blurred or cloudy; they have a blank spot in their vision.
With the possibility of losing your sight within three months with this condition, speed is of the essence. It is vital that patients with any of these symptoms visit an optometrist urgently for possible referral to a retinal specialist for diagnosis and treatment.
According to the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, diagnosis should take no more than seven days and treatment should start within the next week. However, our research shows that two thirds of cases being diagnosed outside of the recommended seven days.
Primary care and community nurses in contact with older people are urged to talk regularly with patients about signs and symptoms of wet AMD and the importance of acting quickly if there is a problem. We need to make every contact count.
Practice nurses can also play a vital triage role, ensuring patients are put on a rapid pathway to diagnosis and treatment, with referral by email or fax from optometrist to retinal specialist.
To find out more about wet AMD and how you can support people visit www.rnib.org.uk/healthprofessionals.
Steve Winyard, head of policy and campaigns, RNIB