We must make our society a fairer one for everyone living with sight loss - Craig Spalding

The challenges we face at this start of this year will, for many of us, feel all too similar to those of the last as a result of the impact of Covid. Even so, every year brings new opportunities too, and that is certainly true for me on a personal level as I take up my new role as Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans.
Craig Spalding, Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland VeteransCraig Spalding, Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans
Craig Spalding, Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans

As Scotland’s biggest sight loss charity, I’m very conscious of the scale of the challenge ahead. The pandemic has disproportionately impacted the lives of visually impaired people. Social distancing has been hard for all of us, but so much harder for people living with sight loss. It means their communities, their public services, their daily activities have become even less accessible for them. We need to address this urgently if we are going to make inclusion a reality for blind and partially sighted people.

Today, there are around 180,000 blind and partially sighted people in Scotland, and by the end of the decade this number will have increased to over 200,000. This means there will be greater need for our specialist education, employability, community and care services if visually impaired people are to have equal chances in our society.

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This will also require health and social care services which ensure people have the support they need once they have been diagnosed with an eye condition. I am joining the charity from my previous role as Director for the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service and know how brilliantly my colleagues in NHS Scotland continue to respond to the huge pressures of the pandemic. It is vital we do all we can as a society to reduce hospitalisations from Covid so we can begin to address the waiting times for treatment for other conditions, including eye health. For many eye conditions early treatment is vital to prevent sight deteriorating further, but thousands of people are now waiting many months for treatment and we are calling for an action plan to address this.

We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to a new National Low Vision Service to ensure everyone with sight loss gets rapid support after diagnosis. We look forward to these plans progressing over the next year, and to further details on the proposals for a National Care Service which we believe must include increased specialist support services for sight loss.

This year there will also be important local government elections. It is vital national and local government works effectively with the third sector so the services people with sight loss need are there for them wherever they live. We continue to build new partnerships with local authorities to increase community support across Scotland.

Lois, who has macular degeneration, has spoken about the importance of the support she has received from her local Sight Scotland community team: “When I learned I had macular degeneration I was stunned. I didn’t know anything about it. If there is anything I am unsure of to do with living with my sight loss now, I know I can contact Sight Scotland and they will help where they can. Their help has been fantastic. It’s terribly important to have people who can support and help when you have sight loss, and who understand its impact.”

I’m delighted to be joining a charity which makes such a difference in ensuring people not only cope with sight loss, but thrive and make invaluable contributions to their communities. I am determined we reach even more visually impaired people so they can receive this support too. I have no doubt there will be challenges in the year ahead, but I know there will also be many opportunities to make our society a fairer one for everyone living with sight loss.

Craig Spalding, Chief Executive of Sight Scotland and Sight Scotland Veterans

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