MASSIVE failures across eye healthcare services feature in official figures published last week.
Statistics published by the Welsh Government show more than half of those in most desperate need of treatment were not seen within their target time and are at risk as a result.

In June, only 47% of those classed as R1 – a category dedicated for those who should their target be missed, are at risk of irreversible harm or significant adverse outcome – were seen within their target time or 25% beyond their target date.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists describes the target date as: “[The percentage] of hospital outpatient appointments that occur within 25% of their intended follow up period, including rescheduling or hospital-initiated cancellations to ensure patients at high risk of visual loss or serious harm can be identified.

“This ensures that failsafe procedures can be targeted at them rather than at the whole ophthalmic cohort which will contain many lower risk patients.”

Out of the 122,406 people in Wales who are classed as R1 and on the waiting list for their appointment, the eyesight of 64,967 people is under threat of irreversible harm.

Five of Wales’s seven health boards failed to see half of their patients within the target date.

In the Central Valleys’ Cwm Taf health board, little over a third was seen within the target time, making it the worst-performing in Wales.

Hywel Dda UHB saw only 45.7% of R1 patients in their target time.

Even Wales’s best-performing health boards, Cardiff & Vale and Powys, saw fewer than two-thirds of patients most in need of treatment within the target time.

Across Wales, the last time more than half of R1 patients were seen within their target time was June 2020.

In that month, only 50.8% were seen within target.

The Conservatives’ Shadow Health Minister, Russell George MS, said: “Loss of eyesight can mark the most frightening point in one’s life, so for this level of

patients to be exposed to such risk is utterly unacceptable.

“We are well beyond the point of mass hospitalisations for coronavirus, so hiding behind the pandemic will not work.

“Given the £1.3bn spent on temporary staff to fill NHS Wales’s 3,000 missing workers, I wouldn’t be surprised if shortages are again responsible for long waiting times that have made patients vulnerable to worsening conditions.

“The Welsh Government’s mismanagement of the health service has meant the Minister, once again, needs to urgently demonstrate she has a plan in place to rectify these terrifying numbers.”

Responding to the damning statistics and the Conservatives’ comments regarding them, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Essential and urgent eye care has continued during the pandemic, and hospitals are now starting non-Covid related activity, including ophthalmology services.

“However, the pandemic has had a significant impact on waiting times and health boards are prioritising patients by clinical need as they restart routine activity.

“We recently announced a recovery plan for health boards to help them tackle the backlog of planned operations, supported by £100m extra funding.

“We are also working with the NHS to understand what additional requirements may be needed to support eye-care care delivery for the future

“Anyone who is worried about their eye health should contact their optometrist who will provide appropriate advice and examine those who require urgent or essential eye care.

“Health boards have also established help lines if people feel their conditions have changed.”