Sight-saving 72-hour NHS pledge from surgical centre

4 January 2021

A vision-saving pledge, from the team at Practice Plus Group Surgical Centre, Gillingham, is set to see people with suspected macular degeneration receive NHS assessment and treatment within 72 hours of referral compared to the two-week national standard.Ernest Onyema

Macular degeneration destroys the central section of a person’s vision. In Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration (Wet AMD) the vision slowly degenerates, and rapid sight loss occurs that can only be halted or delayed by swift specialist treatment.

Ernest Onyema, lead ophthalmologist at the centre, said: “The condition develops when abnormal blood vessels grow into the macula and leak, scarring the macula and causing rapid loss of central vision. Wet AMD can develop very suddenly. An optician who spots it can refer the patient to receive NHS treatment, and we will see them within 72 hours, greatly reducing the risk of un-necessary sight loss.

“The Royal College of Ophthalmologists pathway states that patients should be diagnosed and treated within two weeks of referral. This means that, with a response rate of only 72 hours, people in the Medway Towns will receive the gold standard of NHS care.”

To deliver the treatment, the centre has invested in a dedicated area for the consultant-led service. The centre will also take on two additional experienced specialist nurses to give the injections needed for the treatment.

Treatments are injected into the eye, stopping vision worsening in nine out of 10 people and improving vision in around three out of 10 people. The injections are usually given every month or two for as long as necessary, subject to careful monitoring. Drops are given to numb the eyes before treatment and most people have minimal discomfort.

Once the service develops to full capacity the centre-based team may be joined by a mobile service. Mr Onyema said: “This would be an invaluable development, as people with the condition tend to be older and with impaired sight, so bringing the service as close to them as possible greatly increases the number of people who can be seen within 72 hours, as well as making access to the service a lot easier.”