A new service for people with a long-term eye condition has been rolled out across Northern Ireland.
Patients with ocular hypertension, a condition associated with glaucoma, usually attend hospital appointments, but the new service means that they can attend locally based optometrists who have undertaken enhanced training through an initiative called Project ECHO.
Originally developed in New Mexico, it involves the use of video conferencing technology that helps empower primary care clinicians, such as optometrists, to provide enhanced care services for people with complex health conditions. A total of 22 community optometrists are currently involved in the scheme.
This new approach is evidence that transformation is working, demonstrating how we can develop innovative ways of delivering services for patients that are efficient and sustainable for the future and providing the right support to give people the care that they need at a local level.
Raymond Curran, Head of Ophthalmic Services at the Health and Social Care Board said: “As waiting lists for ophthalmic assessments and treatments continue to experience pressure, Project ECHO provides a training and learning environment which underwrites the glaucoma service reforms that allows low risk patients to be reviewed closer to home.”
Dr Angela Knox, clinical lead for glaucoma services at Belfast Health and Social Care Trust said: “We would not be able to reform this part of the glaucoma pathway without the support of Project ECHO”.
Patient Geraldine Ward said she had been attending the Royal Victoria Hospital before attending a clinic on the Shankill Road.
“The nurses were the same, but it wasn’t as convenient for me to go there. So when this came up for me to go to the opticians to have the glaucoma test, it was more beneficial for me, ” she said.
Among the optometrists taking part in the initiative is Lisburn based community optometrist, Jill Campbell.
“Project ECHO has enabled us to work with optometrists across Northern Ireland as part of a wider network and with local ophthalmologists to give us the support and knowledge to deliver these services in the local community. It has enabled our patients to come to us in local practice and they can come to us at a time that is much more convenient for them,” she said.
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Glaucoma is a condition of increased pressure within the eyeball, causing gradual loss of sight. Ocular hypertension is another term for high eye pressure and is a risk factor for glaucoma and should be monitored closely.
As of February 2019 a total of 13,878 patients across Northern Ireland were waiting on the glaucoma review list, with 8,835 being managed by Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. It is estimated that over 1,000 of these patients are low risk and could be monitored in the community, supported by Project ECHO.
This initiative has been funded as part of the £100m transformation fund, with a total of £178,000 earmarked through the confidence and supply agreement.