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Monday, 7 June, 1999, 10:30 GMT
Eyesight services 'inadequate'

Many people with low vision have problems accessing services, says the RNIB
People with poor vision are being let down by inadequate NHS services, says the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).

About 1.5 million people in the UK are estimated to have a serious sight problem which is not improved with glasses or contact lenses.

As a result, they can experience problems with performing even the simplest of tasks, such as preparing meals.

The RNIB has published two reports which show that information on services is scarce and that support varies from region to region.

One report, Fragmented Vision, by the RNIB and Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, found that there were few or no services available in Wales, western Scotland and south-west England, which have a higher than average number of people with vision problems.

However, in London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool there was a plethora of services.

Diminished quality of life

Two out of every five service providers, mainly specialist departments in hospitals, questioned did not offer any low vision services at all.

The report states: "A lack of low vision services will mean more residential care and attendance costs for local authorities.

"It is a nonsense that such a core rehabilitation service is not uniformly provided in the United Kingdom.

"A growing number of vulnerable people in this country experience a quality of life that is significantly, but unnecessarily, diminished for want of basic, relatively inexpensive health care."

Low vision services can offer information about vision aids, check sight problems and refer onto other agencies.

The RNIB says vision aids can include a range of practical objects, such as angle-poised lamps, big buttoned telephones and bright kitchen equipment.

It has produced leaflets and runs a helpline - 0345 669999 - which give information about products and how to get hold of them.

It says they should be tailored to a person's individual needs as aids like magnifiers can do more harm than good if they are the wrong strength.

Some may be available on prescription.

Eligibility criteria

The Moorfields/RNIB report also says organisations which provide services for people with low vision have different eligibility criteria.

Three per cent required people to be registered as blind. Sixteen per cent had a minimum level of sight qualification and 15% said they would only accept people who were referred by other professionals.

The RNIB wants services to be uniform and available wherever a person lives.

The report calls on the government to expand low vision services and offer different types of service.

It calls on health professionals to co-operate better to improve services and for researchers to investigate ways of making services better.

Another report by the RNIB and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh says many people with low vision receive poor information about vision aids that can make their lives easier.

Many people interviewed for the report, Better Vision, said they had to ring round to find out about services, rather than being told when they were diagnosed.

They also complained of being passed around different agencies and lengthy waiting lists for assessment.

Some patients were waiting up to a year for an appointment, while their condition worsened.

The report says low vision should get much greater priority, that more information about services should be available, that waiting times are reduced and that people should be helped in using vision aids.

Barbara Ryan of the RNIB said: "It is scandalous that people are being told that there is nothing more that can be done.

"There are services to help, but people are not getting the information they need about them."

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