Leading charity warns UK is leaving thousands of blind people isolated and at risk of depression

RNIB says fewer than one in three (30%) eye departments offer adequate support to people who are losing their sight 

RNIB LogoNational sight loss charity RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People) has issued a stark warning today that the majority of people who are diagnosed with sight loss are being left without any specialist support to help them rebuild their lives.

The charity, which has launched a new report ‘Being There When it Matters’,  is campaigning for every eye department in the UK to have access to a qualified sight loss adviser so that people are properly supported as they adapt to life with reduced or no vision. The current picture is bleak; only 30% of eye departments in the UK have access to a qualified sight loss adviser.

Adults in the UK are more afraid of losing their sight than they are of developing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease or having to use a wheelchair, according to survey findings released today by the charity.

More than half of the 2,000 adults surveyed (53%) also said that they believed losing their sight would have a bigger impact on their life than other long-term health conditions, with nine in 10 saying they would lose their independence and eight in 10 concerned they would lose their job.

Research reveals that people with sight loss are more likely to have lower feelings of wellbeing and experience depression, and many have difficulties leaving their homes and accessing healthcare. However these issues can all be address through the provision of specialist support services.

Sight loss advisers offer dedicated practical and emotional support. They can offer advice on everything from remaining in employment, to being more independent around the home and reducing the risk of falls whilst out and about. Recent research has revealed that sight loss advisers create significant financial savings for health and social care budgets with every £1 invested in the service delivering a return of £10.57.

RNIB’s CEO, Lesley-Anne Alexander CBE said: “Every single day 100 people in the UK begin to lose their sight, but even so, many of us can only imagine how devastating it must be to find out it’s happening to us. It is a profound injustice that the majority of people in this situation are not given any specialised support to help them through this extremely traumatic time.

“In less than 40 years, the number of people with sight loss is going to be double what it is now. We are determined to make the government realise that properly qualified sight loss advisers are not only absolutely crucial for patients, but that they make economic sense too.”

Hadi Zambarakji, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, added: “Ophthalmology departments are under increasing pressure and ophthalmologists depend on sight loss advisers to provide information about the range of practical and emotional support available to patients. We see this part of the service as a significant benefit to patients.

“Sight loss advisers are a key part of a good quality service for patients and I believe all eye departments in the UK should have access to this level of back up.”

Not only is provision of sight loss advisers poor due to lack of funding, but many of the positions that do exist are in jeopardy because the future funding situation is uncertain. Out of the 33 sight loss advisers in England provided by Action for Blind People, part of the RNIB charity, 22 have no confirmed funding beyond March 2015. In one particular eye hospital, two sight loss advisers are funded by ten different local bodies

The research also revealed that nine in 10 people would expect to be referred to a sight loss adviser if they found out they were losing their sight. RNIB is calling on members of the public to demand that their local MPs engage with decision makers to highlight the important role of sight loss advisers and find out what support exists for their constituents. Find out more at www.rnib.org.uk/beingthere

About RNIB

Every 15 minutes, someone in the UK begins to lose their sight. We are the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and we’re here for everyone affected by sight loss – that’s almost 2 million people in the UK. If you, or someone you know, has a sight problem, RNIB can help. Call the RNIB Helpline on 0303 123 9999 or visit www.rnib.org.uk

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