Fighting Blindness CEO Avril Daly spoke to TDs on Tuesday July 16, calling on the government to implement recommendations which focus on eye health in Ireland, specifically the elimination of avoidable blindness. Avril spoke as part of an expert group, the National Vision Coalition, at the launch of the Framework to Adopt a Strategic Approach for Vision Health in Ireland.
The framework report highlights some of the statistics around sight loss and the impact that this has on the Irish healthcare system. Over 224,000 people in Ireland are blind or vision impaired and this figure is expected to increase by 20% by 2020. Ten years ago, the Irish government committed to the World Health Organisation’s initiative Vision 2020, which has the objective of eradicating avoidable blindness wherever possible by 2020, just seven years away.
Drawing on data from the Cost of Blindness report, 2012, the facts reported were that the annual costs relating to vision impairment by 2020 are expected to reach over €2.5 billion. Given that research shows that up to 75% of blindness is preventable or treatable, the coalition suggests that the Irish healthcare system is seriously under-performing on the basis of this finding. With increased pressure on available resources, the challenge to provide access to high quality, efficient and economically viable services will intensify. While the expert group acknowledged that attempts are being made by the Government to improve eye health services, such as the upcoming roll-out of the HSE’s diabetic retinopathy screening programme, they state that “these developments are long overdue, as the UK introduced a similar screening programme ten years ago, for example”.
The key challenges, along with potential principles and key objectives for a national strategy, were outlined and put forward as recommendations to the TDs present. The challenges identified include the absence of a collective voice and agreed blueprint, which the coalition hopes to address through its creation. Other obstacles involve insufficient resources, suboptimal levels of connectivity and integration and gaps in the continuum of care. The coalition emphasised the need to balance commitments between prevention, cure and care while addressing the deficits in knowledge, information and research in the area.
The framework document presented by the group recommends eight guiding principles to direct any future development of vision health services and support in Ireland:
• Any future strategy should be all-encompassing and include all eye health problems and diseases for both children and adults
• Quality and safety need to be maximised for anyone accessing services
• Services should be person-centred
• Patients should have choice and control and the ability to live fulfilled lives
• Seamless service pathways should be put in place
• Evidence-based approaches and equality of access should be prioritised
• Research should also be prioritised
• The strategic development of eye health should be aligned with the wider public health policy framework
Also speaking at the event was Fighting Blindness member and ambassador Aine Mae O’Mahony, who shared her own experience of eye health care in Ireland following her sudden onset blindness caused by glaucoma and detached retina six years ago. She spoke from the patient perspective on the importance of joined-up thinking in the health care system, the power of collaboration between all stakeholders and the education needed to increase the understanding that sight loss has many degrees and can sometimes be a “hidden disability”, not immediately obvious to the onlooker.
Fighting Blindness has a mission to find cures and treatments for blindness, to support those living with sight loss and to empower patients. We actively promote and fund research while providing a professional counselling service to families affected by vision loss. Áine Mae’s contribution was eloquent and realistic and highlighted the focus of Fighting Blindness to empower patients, ensuring that the patient voice is always included in any discussion regarding patient care and policy development.
The National Coalition for Vision Health in Ireland is a multi stakeholder group created by Fighting Blindness and the National Council for the Blind in Ireland along with healthcare professionals, patient representatives and people working in vision-related advocacy and healthcare.