Colin Smyth MSP on National Eye Health Week 2017

On Thursday 21st September, Colin spoke in the Scottish Parliament discussing National Eye Health Week 2017.

Eye health is often an overlooked part of a healthy live but the impact of impaired eyes can be life-long.

You can read or watch my contribute to the debate below.

I echo others’ comments by thanking Stuart McMillan, who is a fellow member of the cross-party group on visual impairment, for lodging his motion and providing members with the opportunity to congratulate and thank Diabetes Scotland and the RNIB for their campaign to mark national eye health week by highlighting the threat to vision that is posed by diabetic retinopathy.

Some members will have seen the excellent campaign film by Diabetes Scotland and the RNIB, which has been shown in cinemas and online. It is a powerful film, and it hits home about the importance of getting one’s eyes checked in order to avoid sight loss, where possible.

As World Health Assembly figures show, sight loss is avoidable in 50 per cent of cases, especially when sight problems are detected early. We cannot underestimate the massive impact that loss of vision has on a person’s life. It can drastically affect their confidence, self-esteem and mental health. We all have roles to play in doing what we can to promote early detection of sight problems.

It is more than a decade since the introduction of free eye health checks by my Labour colleague Lewis Macdonald, who was the responsible minister at the time. The move brought about a step change in the eye health care pathway in Scotland and, since then, the number of eye examinations has increased significantly.

We cannot be complacent, however; we know that the number of people with sight loss is set to double by 2030. That is why, like Stuart McMillan, I welcome the findings of the community eye care review. The review sets out important recommendations on how best to achieve higher uptake of eye health checks, and it highlights how to do more with less to provide a good-quality service to all areas of Scotland by creating a national list of optometrists and dispensing opticians in order to improve service planning and reduce duplication, and by making some eye services that are usually provided in hospitals—for example, follow-up cataract surgery appointments—available more locally.

As we have heard in the debate, and as has been highlighted by Diabetes Scotland and the RNIB’s campaign, one of the factors that are contributing to the rise in sight loss is the increase in the number of people who are being diagnosed with diabetes. As members know, a key part of controlling diabetes is monitoring of blood sugar levels, which guides what a person eats and, often, how much insulin they take. At the moment, people with type 1 diabetes typically self-monitor their blood glucose level by using a finger prick, often about a dozen times a day and often during the night.

As I found out when I went on the recent visit to Kirkcudbright by members of the Public Petitions Committee, including Angus MacDonald—who was in the chamber earlier—stabbing your finger with a needle is not exactly a pleasant experience. I had to do it only once on that visit, but some children as young as three have to do it a dozen or more times a day, every day.

During that visit I had the pleasure of meeting local mums Seonaid Anderson and Emily Ross, whose daughters Maisie and Robyn have type 1 diabetes. They highlighted the alternative to the painful and distressing process of finger pricking—namely, continuous glucose monitoring, for which a small sensor is placed under the skin to check glucose levels. That allows for more frequent readings of glucose levels and for fine tuning treatment, and it reduces the need for painful finger pricking. However, it is not currently available on prescription. I urge the Government to consider seriously the case that is being made by mums like Seonaid and Emily and, more important, by their daughters Maisie and Robyn and many others across Scotland, and to make continuous glucose monitoring available on prescription.

The Government has a duty to support the best possible care for people with diabetes, and to raise awareness of the risk that consistently high blood sugar poses to their vision. That includes the importance of attending annual eye checks. That fits perfectly with the Scottish Government’s 2020 vision strategy, which emphasises prevention and anticipation in health and social care.

In order to anticipate which parts of the population are likely to have a bigger increase in sight loss, we need to know how many people currently have sight loss and the rate at which sight loss is rising. I therefore ask the cabinet secretary to tell us when figures on the number of blind and partially sighted people who are registered per local authority will be published. In the past, those figures were reported annually. A return to that frequency of reporting would be invaluable.

Once again, I congratulate Stuart McMillan on his motion. I hope that today’s debate will result in increased focus on how we can best promote prevention of sight loss, including by improved management of diabetes and by carrying out the recommendations that are set out in the community eye care review.

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