It may seem like campaigners are stating the blindingly obvious for National Eye Health Week (Sept 24-30) until you take a closer look at the statistics.
Two million people in the UK live with sight loss severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives.
Half of that sight loss is/was avoidable.
Independent charity N-Vision, the Blackpool Fylde and Wyre Society for the Blind, supports 2500 people living with sight loss across the three boroughs.
That’s just under 0.13 per cent of the two million people affected in the UK.
Linda Sethi (pictured) eye clinic liaison officer for the charity, a role part funded by both Blackpool and Fylde and Wyre Clinical Commissioning Groups, says: “A sight test every two years is our most valuable ally in the fight against sight loss, eye disease and several other conditions.
“It can detect early signs of glaucoma, which can be treated if found soon enough, diabetes, high blood pressure, even tumours.
“We think nothing of going to the dentist for a check-up – we need to make sight tests part of our health routine.
“Parents should get their children’s sight tested, and the earlier the better because it can make so much of a difference.
“Some can do very little about losing their sight particularly in late life. There may be genetic factors for others. But tests can pick up other things that may affect whatever vision you have left – such as cataracts or other issues. “
Look up at the wall at the hospital and you’ll see the N-Vision board pretty much at the heart it all – handy for all the departments related to eye health and ongoing care.
Linda is the watcher on the wards and at the door of the eye department at Blackpool Victoria Hospital – indeed all allied units and clinics.
She is there to catch people before they fall into despair at the diagnosis of a life changing eye condition or when newly certified as severely sight impaired (blind) or partially sighted.
Linda guides them through the dark days of “what next?”
It’s the question most asked by patients.
Specialist medics are the first to admit it’s the question they are least qualified to answer.
Mr Shreyas Raj, full time consultant ophthalmic surgeon and head of the department of Ophthalmology at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, explains: “Linda’s role is crucial. Although we talk to patients and give them some explanation and the nurses talk to them they do need someone to go through the condition, the issues it causes, how they can be helped where there is no treatment, or after treatment is given. Thanks to Linda it is taken care of. The partnership works very well for us.”
Cath Gray, orthoptic services manager at Blackpool Victoria Hospital, says Linda is increasingly helping parents or guardians of children coming through the service either as a result of screening at reception age (four and five) or referral by GPs, health visitors, school nurses, optometrists and more.
The busy team see around 700 children a month on site – and are at the fore of screening, with their East Lancashire colleagues, 14,000 across Lancashire.
Cath, an allied health professional who works within the NHS, explains: “Orthoptic is mostly paediatrics – 70 to 80 per cent of those we see are children.
“However, we come into contact with stroke patents, anyone with a visual field defect, glaucoma, macular issues, neurogenic. The list is endless.
“Linda is now across it all. Her gentle professionalism is invaluable. The patient feels they don’t just have a health person looking out for them but someone who understands the social implications.
“We used to feel out of our depth when patients left hospital before, after we had introduced them to their limitations came the shock, the social impact. I remember one lady desperately upset because she couldn’t walk her dog any more. Things you take for granted hurt the most.
“Linda guides them through. And she always responds – patients need an immediate response, they are not comfortable with being left a few weeks.”
It’s a measure of respect that Linda, who divides her time between charity and hospital, attends the ophthalmology department’s directorate meetings – as the voice of patients.
As one patient puts it: “It’s not like you go in one door, get certified blind, and leave with a guide dog or white stick or long cane, a blue badge for your partner, benefits to take over from where your earnings left off. You’re in the dark in every sense. Linda’s a guiding light.”
Follow the charity on Twitter @N_Vision_NW