Dublin, Tuesday April 1, 2014: The National Vision Coalition is calling for immediate implementation of a national vision strategy following the launch of a study into the economic impact of four eye diseases. The call to action was made at the launch of the ‘Economic Cost and Burden of Eye Diseases and Preventable Blindness in Ireland’ report in Dublin today, which states that up to €76 million could be saved annually if early intervention is prioritised.
The aim of the report – which is part of a pan-European study of 16 countries by Deloitte – was to analyse the impact and burden of blindness and the most prevalent eye diseases in Ireland, and to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of interventions to prevent eye disease and blindness. There are currently 292,867 individuals in Ireland with one of the four eye diseases researched – cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma or wet-age related macular degeneration (wet-AMD). These eye diseases can lead to blindness.
Alarmingly, the report reveals that five people per week became blind in Ireland since 2010, despite 75 to 80% of blindness being preventable. It reinforces the immediate need to eliminate avoidable sight loss in Ireland and reflects similar findings in countries across Europe.
The report also found that 123 million workdays are lost per year in Europe, while in Ireland 2.1 million healthy days are lost per annum as a consequence of vision impairment and blindness. Blindness and vision impairment cost the Irish state €205 million in 2010, yet up to €76 million could potentially be saved if a series of cost-effective measures for the four main eye diseases in Ireland* were implemented.
This potential saving is particularly relevant since the cost of blindness is expected to increase to €2.5 billion by 2020. These recommended interventions include screening for diabetic retinopathy, which allows for earlier access to treatment, if treatment is required; treatment with anti- VEGF for wet AMD; screening for cataracts; and access to surgery where needed.
The National Vision Coalition, a group representing the interests of the vision impaired and blind community, is using this opportunity to remind the Government and relevant policy makers to act upon its recommendations for a national vision strategy and to implement the cost-effective measures highlighted in the new report to prevent a further 260 people per year becoming blind.
Speaking at the launch of the new report, Des Kenny, Chief Executive Officer, NCBI and joint Chairperson of the National Vision Coalition said, “We as a country need to avoid preventable blindness in the future and this report shows how cost-effective these intervention measures can be. We also need to assist those living with vision loss or impairment as best as possible by ensuring that suitable services are available and accessible. But we need to do more, and my hope is that we will be able to prevent blindness entirely in Ireland by implementing the recommendations of the National Vision Coalition.”
Speaking about the rationale for a national vision strategy, Avril Daly, Chief Executive Officer, Fighting Blindness and joint Chairperson of the National Vision Coalition, said, “It is crucial that we develop a cohesive plan for vision health and support those affected by sight loss in Ireland. It is imperative that service users have access to appropriate treatment and care. We must ensure that the recommendations from the National Vision Coalition are developed into a strategy that is all-encompassing, for both children and adults, and that the eight principles are prioritised. This should include supporting medical research into conditions causing sight loss, with the ultimate goal of developing cures and treatments that will lead to more independence and better quality of life for those affected.”
Currently, more than 220,000 people in Ireland are blind or vision impaired, and this figure is expected to grow substantially due to Ireland’s ageing population. Indeed, 13,845 people in Ireland are now blind and this figure has increased by 7% since 2011.
Also speaking at the launch, David Keegan, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin and member of the Coalition, said, “The establishment of the Diabetic Retinopathy Screening Program and the HSE’s National Programme for Eye Care has provided a real opportunity to achieve improved outcomes for people with sight loss in Ireland. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among the working age population. It has been internationally recognised that screening and treatment of diabetic retinopathy is one of the most cost-effective interventions ever investigated, preventing 6% of potential blindness in the first year of treatment. We welcome the Government’s Diabetic Retinopathy Screening programme and urge them to resolve any delays in the screening process so that we can prevent further blindness in Ireland.”
Guest speaker, Professor Ian Banks, Chairman of the European Forum Against Blindness and Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University, Belfast also stressed the importance of treating avoidable blindness. “75-80% of blindness can be prevented. European Member States need to develop a comprehensive strategy for preventable blindness, one that will call for concrete cost-effective interventions to reduce its growing burden.”
Dr Omer Saka, Director of the European Centre for Health Economics, Deloitte Consulting, also focused on the comparison between Ireland and the rest of Europe during the launch. “The situation in Ireland is similar to what we have seen in other European countries. Five people per week are going blind in Ireland, and the current burden of blindness and vision loss is very high with healthcare costs of €65.1m per annum. As with other European countries, this study has found that there are methods to prevent blindness which would be cost-effective for Ireland to incorporate into a national vision strategy. This report supports previous research findings on the cost of eye health, and a potential saving of up to €76 million per year,” he said.
The National Vision Coalition – an alliance of healthcare professionals, those working in the sight loss community, and, most importantly, service users – launched a comprehensive report a year ago recommending the implementation of a national vision strategy, ‘The Strategic Framework for Vision Health’, and proposed eight principles** to guide the development of this strategy.
According to the Framework report, the Government has just six years left to eliminate avoidable blindness wherever possible, since it is committed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) objectives of Vision 2020. Despite this, the Coalition’s eight principles have not yet been developed into a national vision strategy by the Government.
*The four most prevalent eye diseases are; Cataract, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and wet-age related macular degeneration (wet-AMD).
**Eight Principles for a National Strategy:
1. Any future strategy must include the full agenda of eye health for children and adults
2. Maximising quality and assuring the safety of all who access services will be the first consideration at all times
3. All services and supports will be provided on a person-centred basis with a core emphasis on adopting a life-course approach
4. People with sight loss will have the supports in place to enable them to live fulfilled lives, exercising choice and control in their lives
5. Services will be provided using seamless pathways traversing health care, social care and the voluntary sector
6. Resource allocation and service design will be guided by evidence-based approaches where equality of access to treatment, rehabilitation and support is prioritised
7. Research will serve as a key enabler in our continuous commitment to improve outcomes and the quality of care provided
8. The strategic development of eye health and support care in Ireland will be aligned as appropriate with the wider Public Health policy framework
About the National Vision Coalition
The National Vision Coalition is an alliance of healthcare professionals, those working in the sight loss community, and, most importantly, service users that were brought together in 2012 by NCBI, working for people with sight loss, and Fighting Blindness. In 2013, the Coalition put forward its recommendations for a national vision strategy in a report, Framework to Adopt a Strategic Approach for Vision Health in Ireland, and highlighted eight principles to be implemented.
The coalition is comprised of: NCBI (Chair); Fighting Blindness (Chair); Irish College of Ophthalmologists; Association of Optometrists Ireland; Diabetes Ireland; Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind; ChildVision; Mark Cahill, RVEEH; Dr Maureen Hillery, HSE; David Keegan, Mater Hospital; Gerry Kerr, Service User Representative; and Irene Reid, National Rehabilitation Hospital. Supported by Novartis.
NCBI is the national sight loss organisation, providing information, advice, support, rehabilitation services and other training designed to assist people who are living with sight loss to do so independently. Almost 18,000 people in all parts of Ireland are currently availing of some level of service and support from NCBI. NCBI also provides a range of services to public and private organisations to make sure that their services are accessible to people who are blind and vision impaired. For more information visit www.ncbi.ie.
About the Irish College of Ophthalmologists
The Irish College of Ophthalmologists (ICO) is the educational and professional body for eye doctors and the expert body on medical eye care in Ireland.
The ICO is dedicated to promoting excellence in eye care through the education of its members, trainees and the public. Its goal is to maintain standards of excellence for the restoration of vision and the preservation of sight. We do this by educating eye doctors in training, providing on-going education for eye doctors in practice, giving accurate medical advice to the public and policy guidance for the government. For further information, visit www.eyedoctors.ie.
About The Association of Optometrists Ireland
The Association of Optometrists Ireland is the professional representative body for the vast majority of practising optometrists in the country. Formerly known as ophthalmic opticians and commonly referred to as opticians, the official title in Irish law is now optometrist. The Association, in conjunction with the Opticians Board, who are the statutory regulatory authority, provides a supervisory and ethical environment for all members. The purpose of this is to ensure the highest possible standards in provision of clinical and dispensing services to the public. Subscription to the Association’s Code of Ethics and Practice is mandatory for all members.
About Diabetes Ireland
Diabetes Ireland is the national charity dedicated to providing support, education and motivation to all people affected by diabetes. It also raises public awareness of diabetes and its symptoms and funds Irish-based research into diabetes. For more information visit www.diabetes.ie.
About Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind
Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind is Ireland’s national charity dedicated to helping persons who are blind or vision impaired and families of children with autism to achieve improved mobility and independence.
Our Vision: A future where persons who are blind, vision impaired and disabled achieve independence and dignity through our world-class dog and ancillary services.
Our Mission: To provide the highest quality of services in partnership with our clients while planning for the future and valuing clients, volunteers and each other. For more information visit www.guidedogs.ie.
ChildVision in the heart of Drumcondra, Dublin, provides educational opportunities for Ireland’s blind and partially sighted children and young adults in a safe and nurturing environment.
Through varied education programmes, our highly trained and committed staff ensure that all students are treated as individuals and brought on their own specific journey of learning so that they may become independent, happy and resourceful members of their communities. For more information visit www.stjosephsvi.ie.
WHO VISION 2020
VISION 2020 is a global initiative that aims to eliminate avoidable blindness by the year 2020. It was launched on 18 February 1999 by the World Health Organization together with the more than 20 international non-governmental organisations involved in eye care and prevention and management of blindness that comprise the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB). VISION 2020 is a partnership that provides guidance, technical and resource support to countries that have formally adopted its agenda. Click here for more information on VISION 2020.