Published: 17:00, 31 January 2017
A specialist team is on hand to help anyone diagnosed with a sight problem - and statistics reveal that's one in every 30 of us.
In the first of our features on Kent Association for the Blind, KentOnline and KMTV's charity of the year, we will be looking at the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) role offered by KAB.
KAB has three ECLOs across Kent, Janet Kelly based in Maidstone Hospital, Chris Wilsdon in the Princess Royal University Hospital and Queen Mary Hospital, and Fran Smith who is based at Kent and Canterbury Hospital and the William Harvey Hospital.
They offer emotional support, more information about eye conditions and advice on the services available to people with sight impairments.
We caught up with Fran to find out more about the role.
"My job is to support the patient from before their very first visit to the eye clinic, right up to when they have finished being seen by the medical team.
"Once they attend the clinic it may be that they need some more information about their eye condition or to talk things through that the doctor has said, I have the time to do that whereas the doctor might have 25+ other patients to see.
"They may also need emotional support - this is particularly the case if they have been told that they have a condition that is going to affect their vision and is incurable."
As well as this, the ECLOs also support the staff at the clinics.
"This means not only supporting the staff in the eye clinic with ophthalmic patients, but also linking in with other departments of the hospital such as Diabetes, Strokes and Elder Care Wards so they can refer patients to me.
"According to the RNIB 1 in 30 people in the UK are living with sight loss. Once you are over the age of 75 this goes up to 1 in 5.
"These people all go into hospital for various treatments that is nothing to do with their eyes. I train staff in these other departments to offer the best care to sight impaired patients."
The role was created because doctors felt patients were not getting enough emotional support when diagnosed.
"People were going home and having to manage without help. They were not being registered which meant they were not getting the support that they’re entitled to."
If you're worried about attending an eye clinic at any of these hospitals it is easy to contact any of the ECLOs via phone or email.
"People can self refer if they are coming to the eye clinic and are worried.
"The medical staff also refer to me if they feel a patient needs extra support. Family, carers, neighbours and friends can get in touch with me if they have concerns about someone."
One patient said about the ECLO service: “In a word - Brilliant. You gave me the confidence to navigate a dark place that I knew nothing about and helped me find my way.
"Having an ECLO means that the people who are nervously sat waiting, who are too shy to speak up and ask for help, have someone there on the front line who will go to them to check they are okay not left sitting in the dark.”
Fran started working for KAB as an ECLO in August 2012.
"I’m very lucky to love my job. I work with some fantastic people who go above and beyond to support patients every day. This has become increasingly difficult in the current climate of cutbacks.
"We are lucky in Kent to have a strong Association as in other counties patients do not have access to the same resources.
"One thing that I would say is go and see your optician every year.
"They don’t just check for glasses but also eye conditions such as Glaucoma and AMD and even cancers. The sooner you get seen, the more likely we are to be able to save your sight; so hopefully, you’ll never need to see me".
Money raised from taking part in fundraising events is used to support the continuing role of the ECLOs.
plenty of events going on this year that you can get involved in such as:
KAB has signed up to all the KM Charity events so anyone can sign up to a KM event via the charity team website and choose to support KAB.
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