Deep impact: the legacy of the pandemic for eye care

30 July 2021
Summer 2021

Lockdowns led to cancelled operations and check-ups. Becky McCall looks at the legacy of the pandemic for eye disease and sight loss, and the lessons that have been learned.

With fear of COVID-19 infection rife, many patients have avoided, or been unable to attend, consultations with optometrists and hospital ophthalmologists over the past 17 months. This has raised serious concerns about long-term damage to eye health and sight loss, as monitoring of and referrals for sight-saving procedures are missed.   

There were 5.9 million fewer new referral-to-treatment pathways in 2020 compared with 2019, a fall of 30%, and ophthalmology – alongside trauma and orthopaedics – suffered the most disruption (NHS Confederation, 2021). To make matters worse, many of the patients that fall within these specialities have conditions that could deteriorate further if left untreated.  

Specsavers’ Hindsight Report paints a similarly worrying picture. The firm would expect to carry out 8.6 million eye examinations in a normal year, and refer more than 600,000 people to hospital or their GP for further investigation. However, during the height of the pandemic, in March to September 2020, two million customers missed an eye test and almost 130,000 fewer people were referred, meaning many may have a serious condition of which they are entirely unaware (Richmond, 2021).  

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