medical negligence

Avoidable sight loss

A study commissioned by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) found that 2 million people in the UK are living with sight loss that is severe enough to have a significant impact on their daily lives.

Of concern, half of this sight loss was said to have been avoidable with a worrying lack of awareness when it comes to ‘red flag’ symptoms linked to sight threatening eye conditions.

The theme of this year’s World Sight Day is ‘love your eyes’, with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness (IAPB) campaigning to encourage one million people to pledge to have a sight test.

Avoidable sight loss: medical negligence claims

Examples of ophthalmic medical negligence claims

What are the leading causes of sight loss?

Retinal Detachment

Avoidable sight loss: medical negligence claims

Sight loss can sometimes be prevented and in some circumstances is avoidable with appropriate treatment and management. 

Tees’ clinical negligence team understands that when you seek advice relating to your eyesight from an optician or ophthalmic specialist, you expect professional expertise.  You depend upon their diagnosis and recommendations for management and treatment. 

Sadly, when mistakes are made by medical professionals it can result in a particularly distressing time for patients and their families. It can mean big changes, some of which can be expensive. 

You may be struggling to understand why this happened and how you are going to cope now and in the future. If you have suffered from any loss of sight as the result of misdiagnosis, inadequate, delayed or inappropriate treatment, you could be able to claim compensation.

Examples of ophthalmic medical negligence claims:

What are the leading causes of sight loss?

Age-related Macular Degeneration

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a problem with the macula that causes sight distortion or loss to central vision. It usually first affects people in their 50s and 60s. It is not painful, and it doesn't typically result in total sight loss but, without treatment, vision may get worse. This can happen gradually over several years ("dry AMD"), or quickly over a few weeks or months ("wet AMD").

The exact causes of AMD are unknown but certain factors are thought to increase your chances of developing AMD such as smoking, sunlight, age and gender.

Sometimes AMD may be found during a routine optician’s appointment; a specialist called an optometrist will look at the back of your eye and may refer you to an eye doctor (ophthalmologist) or specialist AMD service. This is usually only necessary if there's a possibility you'll need to start treatment quickly. You may have more tests, such as a scan of the back of your eyes.

Treatment for Wet AMD includes injections.  These injections typically do not improve sight but arrest further deterioration. 

Cataracts

Cataracts are when the lens of your eye, a small transparent disc, develops cloudy patches. Many people over 60 have some degree of cataracts and the vast majority can be treated successfully. 

The most common type of cataract is age-related cataract and they develop as people get older. In younger people cataracts can result from conditions such as diabetes, certain medications and other longstanding eye problems. Cataracts can also be present at birth. These are called congenital cataracts.

Cataract surgery is usually a straightforward procedure that takes 30 to 45 minutes. It's often carried out as day surgery under local anaesthetic and you go home on the same day.

During the operation, the surgeon will make a tiny cut in your eye to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with a clear plastic one.

The risk of serious complications developing as a result of cataract surgery is very low. Most common complications can be treated with medicines or further surgery. There is a very small risk – around 1 in 1,000 – of permanent sight loss in the treated eye as a direct result of the operation.

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the Retina. The blood vessels may swell and leak blood or fluid, or larger blood vessels may become blocked causing new, very weak blood vessels to grow in the wrong place on the retina. In very advanced cases, the retina can become detached.

Anyone with diabetes who is 12 years old or over is invited for eye screening once a year in the UK. Early signs of the condition can be picked up by taking photographs of the eyes during diabetic eye screening. This screening can detect problems in your eyes before they start to affect your vision. If problems are caught early, treatment can help prevent or reduce vision loss.

It can cause blindness if left undiagnosed and untreated.

Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a common eye condition which causes damage to the optic nerve. This damage can be caused by increased pressure in the eye damaging the optic nerve, or by a weakened optic nerve, or often by a combination of the two.

This high pressure in the eye is not linked to blood pressure. It is caused when drainage channels in the eye become blocked and there is a build-up of fluid in the eye.

There are different types of glaucoma depending upon the speed at which the drainage channels become blocked or whether another eye condition has caused the Glaucoma. In very rare cases babies can have Glaucoma caused by a malformation of the eye.

Glaucoma can develop very slowly and may be symptom-free at first. Left to develop untreated it can cause loss of your side (peripheral) vision leaving you only able to see things directly in front of you (tunnel vision).

Early treatment can help stop your vision becoming severely affected.  There are several quick and painless tests that can be carried out by an optometrist if they suspect you have glaucoma after a routine eye test: Eye pressure test, gonioscopy (examination to look at the front part of your eye), visual field test and optic nerve assessment.

If glaucoma is picked up during an eye test, you should be referred to a specialist eye doctor (ophthalmologist) for further tests. They will confirm your diagnosis and advice on further treatment.

Red flag symptoms for sight threatening conditions: Retinal Detachment

Retinal tears can be a precursor to retinal detachment. A retinal tear is able to be detected during any routine eye test and can be monitored and treated before a person’s eyesight is adversely affected.

What is Retinal Detachment?

Retinal Detachment is when the thin layer at the back of your eye (retina) becomes loose. Retinal Detachment requires urgent treatment in order to prevent permanent visual impairment.

Red flag symptoms that require urgent medical attention include, but are not limited to:

  • Floaters (dots or lines that suddenly appear in vision or suddenly increase in number);
  • Flashing lights
  • Dark shadows in your vision
  • Sudden onset of blurred vision

Who is at risk of a retinal detachment?

Retinal detachments are rare with a rate of 1 in 10,000 people having one each year. Retinal detachments are most likely to occur in people between 40 to 70 years old. Certain factors put some people at a higher risk of developing a retinal detachment:

  • Short-sightedness; 
  • Have had any recent trauma (an injury or a blow) directly to the eye;
  • Have a history of previous retinal detachment;
  • Have a family history of retinal detachment;
  • Have had previous eye surgery in that eye, such as cataract surgery;
  • Have certain other eye conditions, such as diabetic retinopathy.

Love your eyes and get a sight test

Eye Tests are an important eye health check in addition to ensuring you are wearing the correct glasses prescription. An optician can identify many early signs of eye conditions before you notice any symptoms, many of these can be treated if found early enough.

The NHS recommends that you should get your eyes tested every 2 years (more often if advised by your optometrist).

If you notice any changes in your vision you should visit an optician or your GP. If you have any reg flag symptoms as mentioned above, you should seek urgent medical attention.

Your health has an impact on your vision and certain lifestyle choices can increase the risk of developing problems with your eyes:

  • Smoking means that you are much more likely to develop age-related macular degeneration and cataracts, than people who do not smoke.
  • Wear sunglasses to help protect your eyes from harmful UV rays. 

How we can help

We understand that complaining about medical treatment can feel daunting and overwhelming, but there are many good reasons for raising concerns about the standard of care and treatment you have received and where there are concerns that something has gone wrong, a claim for negligence.

Eye injury compensation awards vary depending on the degree and severity of the visual loss suffered as a result of any negligence and the help and support needed as a result. 

Tees’ clinical negligence team work to make sure the compensation reflects the damage caused by negligent eye treatment and your current and future condition. 

What does the compensation cover?

  • Any long-term care costs
  • Specialist equipment – such as visual aids, walking sticks, home adaptations
  • Further treatment from an ophthalmology expert
  • Expenses – for travel costs to treatment and therapy appointments
  • Loss of earnings – up to retirement age in the most severe instances
  • Physical and emotional pain and suffering

If you have suffered a loss of vision as a result of substandard care and need compensation to help you move forward, then you should consider bringing a medical negligence claim.

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