Each month around three Londoners needlessly lose their sight, researchers have told the London Assembly in a new inquiry into eye health and sight loss in the capital.

And, as well as suffering avoidable sight loss, Londoners encounter huge variations in the level of care they receive.

"Each month around three Londoners needlessly lose their sight."

Taking the example of glaucoma, an eye condition that can be successfully managed with eye drops, London has boroughs where incidence of the condition is under half that of the all-England average (Greenwich) as well as those where the incidence is almost double (Hounslow).

London also sees significant variations in the incidence of age-related macular degeneration, which is now the leading cause of sight loss in the UK. In England the rate of AMD is around 123/100,000 population, but in London rates vary between 42.3 in Kingston upon Thames to 194.7 in Sutton.

 

We need better awareness of health services

 

Across the capital, around 193,000 people are estimated to be living with sight loss, including over 25,000 people with severe sight loss (blindness).This figure is projected to rise to almost 268,000 by 2030, with 10,000 more people severely affected – yet uptake of regular eye screening in London remains low, particularly for some at-risk groups.

Most at risk are new immigrants, including refugees, the homeless, people who are in prison or have learning disabilities and those from lower socioeconomic group. Less awareness of eye health services and preventative measures, language and transportation problems all play a role.

"London is made up of very different communities with very different health needs."

Chair of the London Assembly Health Committee, Dr Onkar Sahota says: “The challenge in London is that it’s a big city made up of very different communities with very different health needs. On one bus ride you can see the whole range of life expectancies and social demographics. The challenge is how to bring the quality level up throughout the city and to deliver services that are accessible, and offer seamless care across eye health and social care, irrespective of where people live”.

 

 

How to tackle London's eye health problems

 

Reducing variations in care is just one area in which the London Assembly aims to  make recommendations. In an investigation focusing solely on eye health, the Assembly Health Committee will also discuss how  care services need to change to work more ‘seamlessly’ for patients, if they are to deliver the improvements that London needs.

"Lifestyle factors such as a diet, sedentary lifestyle and smoking contribute to poor eye health."

Prevention must play a key role, and the London Assembly Health Committee will examine how aware Londoners are of the importance of maintaining eye health and the consequences of delaying treatment on the individual as well as the wider healthcare system. Lifestyle factors such as a poor diet, sedentary lifestyle and smoking are implicated in poor eye health and sight loss and the Mayor’s election manifesto included specific pledges to support Londoners to adopt healthier lifestyles. Dr Sahota says: “We need to shift the focus from disease to prevention. If we don’t, we won’t get the NHS that we need. Prevention is a ‘given’ and if we don’t focus on it, the health service will be in trouble.”