The Macular Society has obtained documents in which senior hospital staff confirm it is a ‘significant issue’ in the ophthalmology department, and the delays could lead to ‘irreversible vision loss’ for some patients.
The documents date as far back as November 2016. In May 2017, the trust papers show that 128 patients with deteriorating eyesight waited longer than they should according to national guidelines.
Prompt treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration is vital as once vision is lost it usually cannot be restored. Another paper in November 2017 says that the delays could ‘lead to irreversible vision loss’.
There appear to be a number of reasons for the delays, including staff shortages and the increasing demand for wet macular degeneration treatment.
Emails between the ophthalmology and pharmacy departments detail a lack of cooperation, particularly when it comes to stocking the wet AMD drugs. They must be kept in a fridge but the pharmacy has opposed the idea of the eye department having its own fridge as the ‘financial risk to stock is too big a risk’ if for example, ‘a fridge system was to fail’.
Introduction of a one-stop process has been discussed in the Trust since at least October 2016, and was "strongly recommended” by the Department of Health in August 2017 as a way to reduce delays and save more of patients’ sight.
Emails in November 2017 reveal a trial of the ‘one-stop’ system was ready to go ahead, with support from the Shropshire Clinical Commissioning Group.
The Macular Society understands the Trust ran a two-day pilot earlier this year, but has taken no further action to implement the system and as of last month patients were still trapped in old, eight-stage process.
Cathy Yelf, chief executive of the Macular Society said: "We have been aware of shocking delays to treatments at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals Trust.
"We’re extremely troubled that this situation is continuing and that patients are potentially coming to harm. It is very distressing for patients to be in a position where they are waiting for treatment, and when they go untreated for many weeks they will suffer irreversible sight loss.
"This is unacceptable and the Trust must now act to resolve this impasse.”
Nigel Lee, Chief Operating Officer at the Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust (SaTH), said: "We would like to reassure all of our patients that their safety remains our top priority, and once we are in a position to move to a one-stop model, we will implement this.”