Specialist support crucial to living well with sight loss - Mark O’Donnell
For a long time in Scotland, and throughout the UK, there has been a recognition that social care services have simply not had the resources and delivery systems needed for their vital role. Five years since the Scottish legislation to integrate health and social care into a single system, the next political attempt at seismic system change lies before us. Future policy textbooks may well coin the previous effort as a courageous failure, and nobody should doubt the skill and valiance of the legions of NHS and social care staff and managers who have tried to make it work.
This time around however, success is the only option as we now consider the proposal for a National Care Service while at Westminster the UK Government has set out its plans for increased national insurance contributions to fund social care. Whether these are silver bullets will be keenly debated, but as Scotland’s biggest third sector visual impairment organisations the priority for Sight Scotland and its sister Sight Scotland Veterans is that they bring the social care services blind and partially sighted people need and deserve.
The Scottish Government’s proposal is that a National Care Service should also have responsibility for children and young people’s services. This requires further discussion, but as a provider of education and residential care services for young people with visual impairment, many of whom have complex needs, we know that there is huge scope to provide better transitions for young people into adult services.
Through our work, we also know it is crucial that the right support is available in the right place, at the right time, so that visually impaired people can be fully included in our society. We are fortunate to work with several local authorities to provide the rehabilitation and self-management skills assisting people living with sight loss to remain independent and socially active. However, in a number of areas many blind and partially sight people with sight loss wait too long for this vital support due to a lack of resources. There are already 180,000 people in Scotland with significant sight loss, which will only grow due to the ageing population. We have created a national support line (0800 024 8973, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm) as part of our strategy to address this, locally and nationally. As we emerge from the pandemic, thousands of patients are waiting too long for treatment for eye conditions.
We warmly welcome therefore, additional investment in community optometry services set out in the NHS Scotland Recovery Plan. We are also delighted that the replacement of the Edinburgh Eye Pavilion will now be progressed, and pleased timescales have now been placed on the previous commitment of a national community-based service for people with low vision, transferring services from hospitals to settings closer to people that will be rolled out at scale across all of Scotland by 2026.
As a society we have a responsibility to ensure we not only have the right structures in place but the right resources too for health and social care. For blind and partially sighted people access to specialist support makes the difference between being isolated and excluded or remaining active and living well with sight loss.
After four and a half hugely rewarding years as Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans I am now moving on to new challenges. It has been a privilege to share with you through this column how significant challenges and opportunities have shaped and changed our charities, and how support for sight loss can be improved in the future.
Mark O'Donnell is chief executive of Sight Scotland
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