Mark Drakeford calls for Public Health campaign to prevent sight loss

Mark Drakeford AM  has called on the Welsh Government to tackle preventable sight loss by making it a public health priority in Wales.

Experts believe that half of all sight loss in Wales is preventable and Mr Drakeford says that a public health campaign to educate people on the need for regular eye tests could save thousands of people the misery of sight loss if eye disease is detected at an early stage.

In a Plenary debate today Mr Drakeford said that sight loss is always viewed as a clinical disease but there are many ways in which a public health approach could cut the incidence of sight loss in Wales.

Mr Drakeford said: “Fear of sight loss is something people put at the top of their list of health anxieties.  ‘Going blind’ is something we all dread.  And yet around 50% of sight loss is preventable particularly among older people.  But the number of people living with sight loss is expected to rise significantly over the next 25 years due to the aging population.

“I am optimistic that the Minister will agree that tackling avoidable sight loss will now become a public health priority for Wales.”

Regular screening is essential to detect conditions such as glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and age-related macular degeneration at an early enough stage for effective treatment.  Everyone should have their eyes tested every two years but a study conducted by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) in 2011 found that many people were failing to have regular eye checks.  People aged over 60 are entitled to free eye checks and yet take-up represents fewer than half of those eligible.  The RNIB study found that many people are put off regular sight tests because they are concerned about the cost of spectacles or being pressured into having spectacles they may not need.
But there is much more people could do for themselves to help prevent eye disease.

Stop Smoking – Smoking can double the risk of developing age-related macular degeneration which is the UK’s leading cause of sight loss.  Stopping smoking can cut the risk significantly.

Healthy Diet -Eating a diet low in saturated fat and rich in green leafy vegetables  may help prevent cataracts and age-related macular degeneration while obesity can increase the risk of diabetes which in turn can lead to sight loss.

Protect the eyes from the sun – It is also important to protect the eyes against harmful UVA and UVB rays from the sun by wearing sunglasses, glasses and contact lenses with a built-in UV filter.

Wear safety goggles – DIY causes hundreds of eye-related injuries each year so wearing safety goggles protects eyes from flying debris and fine particles.

Rest your eyes regularly – It is also important for people to take regular breaks from their computer screens to prevent eye fatigue and reduce the likelihood of developing certain eye conditions.

Check family history – Finally, it is important to check family history as certain eye conditions are hereditary.  In families who do have a history of conditions such as cataracts, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy there is a higher risk of developing these so early detection through regular check-ups is essential.

There was cross-party support for Mr Drakeford’s motion which is also supported by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB Cymru).

Sarah Rochire, Director of RNIB Cymru said : “We’re delighted that Mark has used this opportunity to raise such an important issue.  The high cost and impact of sight loss to both individuals and wider society, and the fact that the number of people with sight loss is expected to double by 2050, makes treating this as a public health priority both morally right and financially prudent.  We do not believe that allowing people to lose their sight unnecessarily is acceptable, but that is precisely what happens every day in Wales.  We urge the Welsh Government to use this opportunity to take action and put measures in place to start reducing avoidable sight loss.”