By Nicola Evans, clinical negligence solicitor at Hudgell Solicitors.
It was with interest and concern that I read a report highlighting problems within eye care services in the NHS in Wales at present, with suggestions that backlogs are potentially causing ‘serious harm to patients’.
Healthcare Inspectorate Wales (HIW) has described ophthalmology services in hospitals as ‘fragile’, leading to breaches of waiting times, increasing the threat of people losing their sight unnecessarily because of delays in receiving appropriate treatment.
Particular concern has been raised with regard to age-related sight degeneration, which sees the rapid central vision loss cause a major threat to a patient’s sight.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists recommends treatment within two weeks of referral to avoid permanent, unnecessary loss of sight in such cases.
However, the HIW report paints a quite frightening picture in which clinical priority is being overlooked in favour of ticking target boxes.
And given that I and my clinical negligence colleagues are currently investigating cases in which alleged delays in treatment have caused further harm to patients in this part of the UK, this report appears significant.
Concerns have been raised over the referral processes at Hospital Trusts, with staff in the Cardiff and Vale and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health boards suggesting they are being focussed on meeting waiting time targets, rather than any priority being given to those in clinical need.
Clinical need must come before management targets in Hospitals
The HIW report said it had been suggested such decisions had been taken by people in management roles at Trusts, overruling clinical views and meaning lower risk patients were being referred first in order to meet targets.
If this this is the case it is completely unacceptable and a very dangerous approach. It’s almost equivalent to making somebody with a major injury wait to be seen after someone with a minor issue in A&E, just because that was the order in which they arrived. Clinical need must come first.
The eye is an incredibly complex organ and, from the many cases we see at Hudgell Solicitors, we know the serious impact a delayed diagnosis or treatment can have on patients’ sight.
We’ve supported people who have lost their vision simply because the correct course of treatment was not carried out quickly enough, and that is an appalling failure.
It is the role of medical specialists to ensure problems are diagnosed quickly, and the role of Hospital Trust managers to ensure patients receive the treatment they require promptly.
It is simply not acceptable to put every patient in the same boat with regards to appointments simply to meet Government targets.
Of course, the quality of your eyesight has a direct impact on your quality of life and ability to be self-sufficient and able, and therefore, many of the compensation claims we handle on behalf of clients can seek to claim substantial damages.
This is because people who lose their sight often require major adaptations to their home, and some form of care – which at times could need to be round the clock – because of their loss of vision, particularly if they are elderly, living alone or have other physical disabilities to consider.
If you have concerns over the care you have received relating to your eyesight or that of a loved one, speak to one of our expert clinical negligence solicitors for free legal advice.