As patients were left unable to see ophthalmologists and optometrists for face-to-face appointments, waiting lists and backlogs inevitably grew, and some individuals with eye problems saw a worsening of their condition. Indeed, those with chronic long-term eye diseases such as glaucoma account for more than 60,000 patients in Scotland. It is only now that we are beginning to see a return to normal practice, but there remains a significant accumulation of people still requiring treatment.
Nevertheless, with the NHS recovery plan now firmly under way, it is easy to forget that considerable progress was made in ophthalmology prior to the pandemic. Over the past 20 years ophthalmic innovations supported by InnoScot Health and involving working with NHS innovators have included Peekaboo Vision, an app created by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde; Multifocal Retinal Imager, developed in collaboration with Wideblue; and the iGrading platform, a diabetic retinopathy screening tool developed alongside NHS Grampian and the University of Aberdeen.
Innovative thinking is more important than ever to help mitigate ophthalmic demand, with many believing that ophthalmology will start to move towards mixed/virtual/augmented reality for examination and surgery over the next ten years. Others predict that ophthalmic technology will be scaled down to smaller devices and, much like other areas of health and social care during the pandemic, it could lead to home-based ophthalmic monitoring, particularly useful for remote parts of Scotland. However, such breakthrough technologies must start with those who know the landscape best, with all of its challenges and opportunities.
At InnoScot Health, we believe that NHS Scotland’s expert ophthalmologists are best placed to identify where the unmet medical needs and bottlenecks in clinical ophthalmology lie – but do not necessarily have the required skillset to fully create the solution. This is where collaborative relationships come in – in other words, bringing forward and tapping into the knowledge of those with the right expertise in project-management, product-development and intellectual property protection, for instance, to develop and realise the full potential of an idea – resulting in innovation that can improve the lives of both NHS Scotland patients and clinicians.
We are currently looking for forward-thinking ophthalmic solutions that can help support NHS Scotland to strengthen and make meaningful change in this priority area of its recovery plan in our latest innovation call. For those answering the call, the package of support for health and social care staff with ideas to innovate in ophthalmology includes up to £25,000 of initial funding, regulatory support, project management, and the innovation expertise of InnoScot Health.
Creating a culture of innovation is key to deal with a variety of issues across NHS Scotland – and it’s no different in ophthalmology services. If that is to be overcome, then innovative new ideas will be key to unlocking the solution.
Graham Watson is executive chair at InnoScot Health, which was formerly known as Scottish Health Innovations and works in partnership with NHS Scotland to identify, protect, develop and commercialise new innovations from healthcare professionals.