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Elderly Eye Care in the UK: What’s Being Done to Bridge the Gaps?

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The prevalence of vision problems is growing in the United Kingdom, putting the elderly in a more vulnerable position. According to a report by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), over two million people are living with sight loss in the UK. Of that number, nearly 80% are from the older population aged 65 and above. The RNIB also predicts that the number of people experiencing sight loss will double and reach 4 million by 2050, making access to eye care all the more crucial.


Ocular problems like cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma are all age-related. Thus, people experiencing vision issues may be at risk of going blind as they grow older, especially with challenges in accessing eye health care services. But what is being done to mitigate these risks? Below, we take a look at the state of elderly eye care in the UK and what’s being done to bridge the gaps.

Hindrance to elderly eye care


Backlogs in the National Health Service (NHS) waiting list continue to be a primary barrier to the ageing population’s access to eye care. Data published by NHS England shows that there were over 7 million people on waiting lists last December 2022; of that number, around 630,000 were waiting for an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Due to the capacity challenges faced by the NHS, an estimated 22 people end up with severe or permanent sight loss every month, as reported by the Association of Optometrists (AOP). The AOP also says eye problems are more common in elderly patients, making the older population more at risk for blindness. But what alternatives are being implemented to prevent this?

Bridging the gap


Accessing eye care services can be difficult for elderly people with mobility issues and other health concerns that may hamper their ability to communicate their eye care needs. This is especially true for people living in care homes who cannot go outside. As a response, Specsavers offers home visits to provide eye care services to residents who cannot leave their nursing homes. In 2022, the group of mobile opticians provided more than a quarter of a million glasses to care home residents and referred more than 2,500 people in Wales for eyesight treatment. This helps bring ocular health care closer to older people who have no means to visit an eye doctor.


The increasing popularity of e-commerce has also made eye care services more accessible. These online retail stores help minimise the need for older people to travel to brick-and-mortar stores. Glasses Direct is an online eyewear retailer that offers a diverse range of glasses frames that seniors can wear, such as the Elaine and Grayson. Through its Home Trial feature, older adults can also try up to four frames, which will be delivered directly to their homes so they can wear and select the best possible option before going back to the site and ordering their preferred frames. That way, travel time is reduced, and elderly people with mobility issues can still access eyewear options from the comfort of their homes. 


Researchers in the UK have also developed an artificial intelligence (AI) program that is capable of detecting and treating eye disorders through retinal images. RETFound is an AI model that uses millions of eye scans from the NHS to pick up early signs of blindness. This can provide a huge boost in the accurate diagnosis of ocular problems that can threaten the eyesight of older adults, including glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and other diseases that the human eye can overlook. RETFound can also reduce the workload of eye doctors in analysing retinal images, thus potentially making waiting times in hospitals or even in the NHS much faster. 
Access to eye care remains a problem that threatens the eyesight of the elderly in the UK. Luckily, initiatives are in place to bridge this gap and reduce the likelihood of age-related vision loss across the country. For more articles like this, visit The Pembrokeshire Herald website.

Community

Urgent warning: Flash rips at Newgale

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BEACHGOERS at Newgale Beach are being warned to exercise extreme caution due to an increase in flash rip currents, which have led to numerous rescues in recent days. Lifeguards have reported a spike in dangerous currents, prompting a strong advisory for visitors to heed safety guidelines.

On Tuesday, RNLI lifeguards at Newgale Beach were involved in a series of dramatic rescues. With surf conditions of 1-2 feet and shifting sandbanks at low tide, an abundance of rip currents formed, creating perilous conditions for swimmers and surfers. Lifeguards rescued six people and assisted a further eight from rip currents, while also offering preventative advice to hundreds of beachgoers.

Senior Lifeguard George Morgan stressed the importance of visiting lifeguarded beaches, especially with World Drowning Prevention Day approaching on 25 July. “Yesterday’s events highlight why it’s crucial to follow our advice. We conducted six rescues and assisted eight more people, but also provided preventative advice to hundreds,” Morgan said.

The conditions at Newgale are particularly hazardous due to the interaction of surf, wind, and tides with the sandbanks, creating unpredictable flash rip currents. These currents can change location daily, making them impossible to predict. Lifeguards have to regularly move the safety flags and dynamically assess the beach.

Lifeguards advise swimming and bodyboarding only between the red and yellow flags, and surfing, kayaking, and paddle boarding between the black and white flags. These flagged areas are patrolled by lifeguards from 10 am to 6 pm. A red flag indicates an unsafe area, typically due to rip currents.

Tuesday’s incidents began shortly after midday when a flash rip current appeared at the north end of Newgale Beach. Lifeguard Jake Rogers rescued two bodyboarders and assisted three surfers out of the rip current. Later, he helped two more bodyboarders who were struggling to return to shore.

Lifeguard George Morgan, operating a Rescue Water Craft (RWC), guided people to stay within the flagged areas. He spotted two bodyboarders being swept out to sea and assisted them with the help of Lifeguard Travis Christopher-Mullins. Later, Jake Rogers, while patrolling on the RWC, assisted a surfer and two swimmers caught in rip currents, ensuring their safe return to shore.

Near the end of their shift, Lifeguard Cai Owen rescued two bodyboarders who were caught in a rip current and far out of their depth, bringing them safely back to shore.

Stuart Penfold, Lead Lifeguard Supervisor for North Pembrokeshire, offered crucial advice for those caught in a rip current: “Don’t swim against it or you’ll get exhausted. If you can stand, then wade instead of swimming. If possible, swim parallel to the shore until you’re free of the current, then head back to shore. Always raise your hand and shout for help.”

Penfold also encouraged beachgoers to approach lifeguards for guidance if they are unsure about water safety. He emphasised that several beaches in Pembrokeshire, including Newport Sands, Poppit Sands, Whitesands, Newgale Central and South, Broad Haven, Freshwater West, Tenby North, Tenby Castle, Tenby South, and Saundersfoot, are patrolled daily from 10 am to 6 pm.

Safety Tips:

  • Swim only in areas supervised by lifeguards.
  • Be aware of changing conditions and unexpected currents.
  • Avoid swimming after hours or in unpatrolled areas.
  • Share this safety information with others.

Newgale Beach, while a stunning destination, currently requires heightened vigilance and caution.


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Community

Call for landowners to check for ash dieback

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WORK has been carried out across Pembrokeshire to manage trees affected by ash dieback.
Ash dieback is one of the worst tree disease epidemics the UK has ever seen and there is no treatment option.

Trees affected by the disease become brittle over time with branches breaking away.
If they are not dealt with, trees are weakened and may become susceptible to secondary pathogens which may result in total failure, presenting an immediate danger to the surrounding area.

Cllr Rhys Sinnett, the Cabinet Member for Residents’ Services, said: “Like many areas of Wales and the UK, ash dieback is prevalent in Pembrokeshire.

“It is always a shame when a tree has to be removed but this work is important for public safety.

“The Council is also highlighting important action that needs to be taken by private landowners.”

Through highway inspections, the Authority has identified trees on private land that could impact on the highway and therefore require attention.

Private landowners have a duty, under the Highways Act, to manage trees on their land that may impact on the public highway.

The Council’s Streetcare Team continues to contact private landowners to identify trees that fall within the higher category of decay.

In order to assist with this issue the Council is requesting that private landowners check their ash trees for any sign of the disease and take appropriate action.

This is especially important at this time of year, as lack of leaf growth and decayed branches will be signs of diseased trees that landowners will need to check and take action if necessary.

The Council advises that an arborist or qualified person is used to assess trees and review safe felling operations and ensure consents are in place to remove any identified trees.

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Community

Conservation area consultation for Cresswell Quay approval expected

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PLANS to hold a public consultation on making one of south Pembrokeshire’s most scenic estuarial villages, home to a CAMRA award-winning pub, a conservation area are expected to be backed by the national park.

At the July 24 meeting of Pembrokeshire Coast National Park’s meeting approval is sought to initiate public consultation for designating Cresswell Quay as a Conservation Area.

Cresswell Quay, home to the Cresselly Arms, is “one of the most scenic villages within the National Park and is highly significant as a very early coal port, retaining several buildings of architectural importance,” a report for members states.

There are some 500 conservation areas, defined as “areas of special architectural or historic interest, the character of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance” across Wales, 14 in the national park.

The report for Park members adds: “The designation of a conservation area at Cresswell Quay would recognise the special architectural and historic interest of the village and would ensure that future development either preserves or enhances the character and appearance of the conservation area.

“The designation would introduce controls over the demolition of buildings which would require conservation area consent and affords greater protection of works to trees. Officers consider that part of the special interest of Cresswell Quay is the relationship between the village, the estuary and its wooded setting, which is unusual in a Pembrokeshire context.”

It adds: “To date, the Conservation Areas within the National Park have been designated inhouse. However, Cresswell Quay is the home of the Buildings Conservation Officer and to avoid any potential conflict of interest or wider public misconception, the public consultation will be undertaken by Linda Jones of Babb Architects, Whitland and Emily Holder, Conservation Assistant, supported by members of the Strategic Policy team.”

Initial engagement with key landowners and the three community councils of the area has already taken place, and a public drop-in event – if consultation is backed – is planned for early August.

Further information on the consultation will also promoted at events including the Pembrokeshire County Show and Martletwy Show.

Earlier this year the Cresselly Arms won the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) pub of the year award for the whole of Wales.

The Cresselly Arms averaged 89 points out of a maximum 120 after surveys were conducted across the country by members of other branches.

The recommendation before Park members seeks approval for a formal consultation, as well as drafting a conservation area appraisal and management plan.

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