SIGHT loss can be very frightening, and it’s something that over 6000 people live with in Dumfries and Galloway.
Now, a new service established locally in a partnership between RNIB Scotland and NHS Dumfries and Galloway is aiming to provide more structured support to people when they receive what can be a devasting diagnosis.
RNIB Scotland director James Adams said: “Being told you are going to lose some or even all of your sight can be devastating news.
“For the doctor and healthcare team, a diagnosis can be pretty much the end of the story. For the patient, however, it’s just the start of a journey into unknown and often rather frightening territory.
“That’s where Eye Care Liaison Officers (ECLOs) can help, a service managed in hospitals by RNIB and other providers. They offer emotional reassurance along with practical advice and support to help people make the adjustment to living with sight loss, by maximising their confidence and everyday independence.”
Jo Birch is Clinical Service Manager with NHS Dumfries and Galloway, and was present at an event held at Mountainhall Treatment Centre on Tuesday which marked the launch of the new service.
Jo said: “The prospect of losing one’s eyesight can be traumatic and scary.
“Every single year, many people within our region will be given that diagnosis, and will then embark on that journey.
“As people adjust to loss of eyesight they can go through a whole range of emotions, such as shock, denial, anger, fear and grief,
“We know that emotional assurance as well as practical advice and support can make a big difference to someone in this situation.
“That’s why I’m delighted that today marks the launch of a new service within Dumfries and Galloway which is being implemented in partnership with RNIB, and which looks to ensure people receive that important support.”
Eye Care Liaison Officers (ECLOs) help patients talk through their concerns. When the person is ready, they will be able to provide advice on how to lessen any impact their eye condition may have on daily life.
Fred Birch from Lockerbie lost his eyesight during the COVID pandemic, at a point in time when there was less support available.
Attending a launch event in Dumfries on Tuesday, and hearing about the new service, Fred, 89, said: “It’s bound to be a good idea – pulling everything together to advise what is best, with the collective knowledge and experience.
“It’s bound to be better.”
One woman who now lives in Dumfries received ECLO support while residing in Ayshire vouched for the value of the service.
The 78-year-old said: “I had my first interaction with my ECLO, Alex, earlier this year, and she was wonderful with me.
“She was very cheery, uplifting, and helpful.
“It’s in the last year that my sight has worsened, and I’ve lost an awful lot of confidence because of it. But I’ve joined a few RNIB support groups which Alex pointed me towards and we all have a chat, and that helps with confidence.
“It’s a very valuable service. It makes people feel like they are not alone, that somebody is there. If you have any worries or anything, you just contact them and have a chat.
“I think the new service in Dumfries and Galloway will be a great help to people like me.
It’ll give them the confidence to know they’ve got somebody that can back them up and keep in touch with them. It’s hugely important that there’s someone there not just for the medical side, but for everything else- the emotional side, and getting the support that someone needs.”
Eye clinics are among the busiest out-patient departments in hospitals, and hard-pressed health professionals often simply don’t have the resources to offer this often intensive one-to-one support.
Derek Beeton, senior charge nurse for ophthalmology, notes the difference this will make to colleagues in NHS Dumfries and Galloway.
He said: “The addition of an ECLO service to our department will be of huge benefit to countless patients moving forward. It is a great example of positively and effectively bridging the gap between health and social care for the benefit of patients.
“Despite ongoing innovations and developments, sight loss sadly continues to be something many patients face and can have a profound impact on their level of independence and wellbeing. The introduction of an ECLO will provide our patients, their relatives and carers with the practical and emotional support necessary to understand their diagnosis, adapt to living with sight loss, and ultimately retain as much of their independence as possible.”
Somar Ferguson of the Sensory Support Team within Dumfries and Galloway Council says this addition to eye care services in the region will provide valuable support.
Somar said: “We welcome RNIB Scotland to Dumfries and Galloway and value this excellent development and resource for our sight loss community. Their ECLO will complement and connect existing services for people with sight loss and will act as a bridge between hospital-based eye services and our community-based Sensory Support Team.
“Working together we will ensure that people with sight loss are provided with support and information and vision rehabilitation when it is needed most.”