Published: 12:57, 20 September 2021
| Updated: 13:44, 20 September 2021
A specialist warns the impact of the pandemic is a "ticking time bomb" for eye health.
Pritin Patel, director at Specsavers Dover, is highlighting the findings from a national report, which shows there were 4.3 million fewer eye appointments as Covid-19 has gripped the country.
He spoke out during National Eye Health Week, which began today and ends on Sunday.
The State of the UK’s Eye Health Report 2021, commissioned by Specsavers opticians, examines the cost to people’s sight.
UK-wide, it shows that exactly 2,986 people are estimated to have lost their sight due to delayed identification and treatment of eye disease during the pandemic.
Also 316,000 people have missed referrals for ophthalmology services. It predicts that there will be a £2.5 billion estimated additional economic cost of sight loss and blindness due to the pandemic between this year and 2024.
'We suspect these findings are the tip of the iceberg....'
Mr Patel, an optometrist based in Biggin Street,said: "We, along with our colleagues and partners across the eye health sector, suspect these early findings are just the tip of the iceberg.
"The pandemic meant that eye care services in the UK were withdrawn, reduced or restricted.
"Despite Specsavers being open throughout the pandemic, our stores alongside other high street opticians, saw a drop of almost 25% in eye tests across the sector.
"This has led to a reduction in referrals and the treatment of serious, and sometimes symptomless, eye conditions that can lead to irreversible and permanent sight loss if not detected and managed in time.
"The eye health sector, and the NHS, has a ticking timebomb on their hands."
Figures show 56,000 people are living with sight loss in Kent. They also reveal 18,000 have glaucoma, 91,300 have age-related macular degeneration and 31,700 have diabetic retinopathy.
Yet a poll commissioned by Specsavers showed that 46% of people in Kent have delayed having an eye test.
A total 21% think they might have a serious underlying sight issue that they haven’t had looked at because of coronavirus.
Mr Patel added: ‘Regular eye tests are so important. If people in Kent have missed their appointment during the pandemic, I urge them to book.
"We are still adhering to strict safety precautions in our stores. It’s important people keep having regular appointments – even if they don’t think anything is wrong – as many conditions are symptomless in the early stages.’
Opticians are technicians who fit eyeglasses, contact lenses, and other vision-correcting devices. Optometrists are eye doctors who examine, diagnose, and treat patients' eyes.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects the middle part of people's vision, usually in their 50s and 60s.
It does not cause total blindness but it can make everyday activities like reading and recognising faces difficult.