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Health / Receiving eye treatment locally makes ‘immeasurable’ difference, patient says

THE BENEFITS of offering treatment in Shetland rather than in Aberdeen for a sight-threatening eye condition were spelled out at a health board earlier this week.

A video was shown of an interview with local patient Claire Hurst, who first began monthly treatment for age-related macular degeneration late 2015.

She said having treatment, which usually consists of injections to slow the progress of the condition, locally instead of having to travel to Aberdeen has made an “immeasurable difference” to her life.

Hurst said her concern was usually more around the travel to Aberdeen than the appointment itself – with the patient often finding it took days to recover from the trip south and back on the boat.

NHS Shetland director of nursing and acute care Kathleen Carolan said delivering treatment locally was saving on unnecessary travel and improving patient experience and outcomes.

Age-related macular degeneration is the biggest cause of sight loss in the UK, affecting 600,000 mainly elderly people.

When it is ‘dry’ it is a gradual deterioration of the macula, often over several years, and there is no treatment.

But injection treatment to slow the process of the condition is available for ‘wet’ age-related macular degeneration, which is caused by tiny abnormal blood vessels growing into the retina which leak and cause scarring of the macula

Treatment started being offered in Shetland at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick in 2019.

A visiting ophthalmologist is still involved but having staff trained to deliver injections in Lerwick has made the service more reliable, Carolan said.

In the last 12 months local staff member Christina McDavitt has trained up to be able to provide injections herself.

Sufferers of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) need eye injections as often as every four weeks, without which they would rapidly lose all their central vision, leaving them unable to read, watch television or recognise the faces of their closest friends and family.

Hurst, who chairs the local macular support group, said in her patient interview that over the years she has started having trouble seeing lines, reading, playing music and making out people’s faces.

“Now letters and numbers don’t just wiggle, they jump about,” she said.

A trip to the Tesco supermarket can be a panicky affair, Hurst added, if she ends up losing the person she is with.

She calculated that she made nearly 40 trips to Aberdeen for treatment.

The patient preferred taking the boat but the time the overnight journeys takes up added extra stress to the process.

As she is not much of a shopper, Hurst said she often found it tiresome wiling away time in Aberdeen – with there only being so much coffee you can drink in cafes.

She said having treatment instead in Shetland was “life changing”.

“The difference between going up and down to Aberdeen and coming here is immeasurable,” Hurst said.

“It’s easier on the families or carers.”

The Shetland Macular Society support group usually meets on the first Wednesday of every month. More information can be found here.