Hundreds of patients with eye problems in the Rhondda are being treated faster by local optometrists under a scheme which is easing the pressure on GP appointments.
The Welsh Eye Care Service (WECS), which is unique to Wales, allows early assessment of acute eye conditions by experts with the required specialised equipment.
Problems dealt with include red eye, floaters; flashes and floaters; blurred or double vision; dry, itchy or painful eye; or loss of peripheral vision.
Patients with eye difficulties can attend any practice in the Rhondda where each has an accredited WECS optometrist, without having to be referred by a GP.
A free eye examination should, within reason, be offered within 24 hours of a request. But the scheme does not cover routine eyesight tests.
Owain Mealing, 31, an optometrist at Davies and Jones in Porth, said: “People arrive saying their eye hurts, or they’re seeing flashing lights or suffering a sudden loss of vision.
“Even if they pay for a test for spectacles, the examination would be free to assess their acute problem. It’s not to do with flogging them glasses; it is to do with their eye health.
“Every day, people are turning up and they get sorted or we can refer them on to other specialists,” said Mr Mealing, lead on the Local Optometric Committee.
Many conditions are routinely detected, ranging from conjunctivitis. The worst he had uncovered included a melanoma, skin cancer, in a patient suffering from flashing lights, and a brain tumour in another who was complaining with headaches.
“More people are accessing the service – around 200 a week across the Rhondda – when previously around 8% of GPs appointments were being taken up by eye issues. So it is making a significant contribution to easing the workloads of GPs.
“Referrals to a hospital eye clinic also account for about 30% of outpatient appointments but more work coming to us also reduces the need to go to hospital.
“So don’t clog up your GP with eye problems, come to see your optician and get your eyes sorted.”
Dr Bob Baron, a GP in Tonypandy, said that the WECS scheme used the expertise of optometrists, who had the skills and equipment to deal with eye problems in much greater detail than a 10 minute GP consultation.
“This successful initiative is supporting GPs and frees up our time for other patients to be seen,” he said.
Dr David Miller, who practises in Treorchy, said: “We are always trying to find ways to increase the number of appointments available, so 200 patients being seen by our colleagues in Optometry means an extra 200 appointments we can offer to others.”