Risk of rise in patient anxiety over NI waiting times for eye care services

Long waiting times for hospital eye care services in Northern Ireland risk increasing patient anxiety, a report warned.

Nine out of 10 people overall had a positive experience with the service but information provided to those queuing for treatment was sometimes lacking, a 10,000 Voices report published by the Public Health Agency (PHA) said.

Hospital ophthalmology services deal with cataracts, glaucoma and other serious conditions.

The report said: "A number of stories describe long waiting times to access services and the lack of information while people are in the process of waiting, which can lead to increased anxiety for the patient and their family."

According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, 20,695 patients were waiting more than nine weeks for a first eye care consultant appointment by late last year.

The 10,000 Voices review received feedback from 560 patients and staff at hospital eye care services.

Its overall conclusion noted many had enjoyed a positive experience but made findings aimed at identifying improvements. These include:

- Some with poor eyesight or registered blind have received information via a standard letter rather than a more appropriate format.

- Others experienced difficulties using self-check in facilities.

- Some staff were unaware of how to deal with patients with visual impairments.

- Difficulty reading signs or navigating hazards like floor cleaning signs was reported.

The report said: "From the stories it is clear that people feel that they do not always receive the right information at the right time.

"This is evident in relation to the information people receive about their condition and what might happen in the future as well as the provision of emotional support."

It suggested sending a letter to confirm receipt of referral to hospital services and an approximate time scale before a patient is seen.

It also urged better advice on where to go if sight deteriorated whilst awaiting an appointment.

More than a third of those who submitted feedback had a disability, and a number of people highlighted mobility problems in their stories.

"Stories describe how people feel that departments are cramped and can consequently be uncomfortable with a lack of privacy while people are waiting to be seen," the report added.

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