Blind People in England Face Delays

Blind People in England Face Dangerous Delays in Care 

Tragically, thousands of people in England who are blind or have partial sight are placed at unnecessary risk. A new report exposes widespread delays in essential care that individuals have a legal right to receive following diagnosis with visual impairment. 

The Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) report reveals a shocking truth: More than a quarter of English councils force newly-diagnosed blind individuals to wait over a year for vision rehabilitation assessments and potentially life-altering support. Consider the story of one woman from Church Stretton in Shropshire. After being certified as visually impaired, she waited an appalling 18 months for a council assessment. While bravely attempting to navigate with a cane without proper training, she tragically tripped on a pothole and died from resultant head injuries. 

Understandably, Shropshire was among the councils that admitted to the RNIB of forcing recent diagnoses to wait over a year for assessment and support. 

2014 Care Act

Under the 2014 Care Act, councils have a clear legal obligation to provide timely assistance for those adjusting to a recent visual impairment. This support is crucial as it involves both practical and emotional coping mechanisms at a pivotal moment. Ideally, according to the social care ombudsman, councils should provide these services within a mere 28 days of receiving a certificate of visual impairment. 

However, the RNIB report, based on extensive freedom of information requests to English councils, found a staggering 86% were missing this 28-day deadline. The report, "Out of Sight – The Hidden Scandal of Vision Rehabilitation", highlights the dangers inherent in these delays. 

Alarmingly, out of the 80 councils that provided data, over 2,000 individuals were forced to wait more than six months for support in 2022 alone. Moreover, the RNIB estimates, based on a separate survey, that at least 115,000 blind and visually impaired individuals may go without any support throughout their entire lifetimes. 

Why Are Care Delays So Prevalent? 

The new RNIB report states: "RNIB has heard directly from many blind and partially sighted people who have experienced wait times far beyond what is safe or expected, but to find at least 2,025 people were left waiting for more than six months to receive a vision rehabilitation assessment is shocking.” 

The report concludes that one major contributing factor is that chronically underfunded councils aren't properly regulating these services, unlike other areas of adult social care. This lack of regulation persists despite clear and substantial risks for visually impaired individuals. 

The report emphasizes: “Our research has shown how – when a structured programme of vision rehabilitation support is not implemented in time – blind and partially sighted people face an increased risk of harm. This is happening too often and putting lives at risk.” 

Consequently, the RNIB calls for services focused on vision impairment to fall under the purview of the Care Quality Commission for oversight. “Without national oversight, there is no accountability of services provided,” the report insists. 

Vivienne Francis, the RNIB’s chief social change officer, clarifies, “We know that local authorities in England are struggling to cope with the rise in demand for vision rehabilitation services, and to resource the service effectively. However, threadbare services mean that thousands of blind and partially sighted people wait often more than 12 months without the support they’re entitled to so they can live their lives to the full.” 

She adds, “This hidden social care injustice needs to be fixed. We’re calling on all UK political parties to commit to ensuring people with sight loss get the emotional and practical support they need, when they need it.” 

Personal Experiences: Impact of Delays 

Natalie Holford (60), from Tamworth, offers a firsthand perspective. After Marfan’s syndrome caused her to be registered as severely sight impaired in April 2019, her life changed drastically. A near-miss with a car made her realize the urgent need for help. 

She shares: “I nearly got run over. This would be about six months [after receiving a diagnosis]. I’m in tears. I phoned up the social services and said: ‘You know, I really do need whatever it is that support is supposed to happen at this point.” 

Thankfully, Birmingham council then provided her with excellent support, including white cane training. This training gave her the “balance and confidence” she needed to feel safe. Initially, she worried that a white cane would make her look vulnerable, but the opposite turned out to be true. People became more likely to approach and offer help. “Now, I don’t go out of the house without the cane,” she states. 

Terry Quinn (59), from Baildon in West Yorkshire, paints a darker picture. Registered as severely sight impaired in 2019 due to diabetic retinopathy, he describes feeling utterly alone during a four-month wait for council support. "I would spend days and weeks in the house by myself, not daring to go out," he reveals. Having been forced to close his health treatments business, this period of isolation felt like rock bottom. 

Transformation Through Support 

Thankfully, Terry Quinn's story doesn't end in despair. Following his desperate plea, Bradford council finally provided the resources he needed. "That one call led me to living the best blind life ever,” he says. 

His outlook changed drastically. Support services helped him develop a more positive mindset, giving him the courage to even seek out a guide dog. Having a dedicated guide dog has significantly enhanced his life. 

These transformative stories highlight why timely access to vision rehabilitation is so vital. However, such stories should not be extraordinary – they should be the norm across England. 

Blind people in England

Risks of Inadequate Support 

Delayed or inadequate services have far-reaching consequences for blind and partially sighted individuals. The RNIB's report outlines several areas of heightened risk: 

  • Falls and Injuries: Lack of training in safe navigation techniques using a white cane or other tools dramatically increases the likelihood of falls, especially in unfamiliar environments. 
  • Social Isolation: Difficulty with mobility and independent daily tasks can lead to withdrawal, loneliness, and a decline in overall health. 
  • Mental Health Decline: The shock and uncertainty of a visual impairment diagnosis, compounded by a lack of support, can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges. 
  • Economic Hardship: Untapped potential for adapted employment and maintaining independence can lead to financial strain and difficulties maintaining a job. 

Practical and Emotional Resources 

Vision rehabilitation aims to mitigate these risks with timely support that helps individuals adjust to their new circumstances. Here's a breakdown of some crucial components: 

  • Mobility Training: Specialists teach cane skills, familiarization with routes and landmarks, and safe public transport use. 
  • Daily Living Skills: Guidance on adapted techniques for cooking, personal care, managing finances, and using accessible technology. 
  • Communication Skills: Learning Braille, utilizing accessible software, and exploring other forms of effective communication 
  • Emotional Support: Counseling, peer support groups, and stress management techniques to process the diagnosis and its implications. 

The Path to Change 

The RNIB urges policymakers to prioritize several key steps: 

  • Regulation and Quality Standards: Bringing vision rehabilitation under the regulatory umbrella of the Care Quality Commission to ensure service standards and accountability. 
  • Increased Funding: Adequately resourcing local councils to meet the growing demand for these services and reduce unacceptable wait times. 
  • Raising Awareness: Campaigns informing the public and healthcare providers about the importance of timely support after a visual impairment diagnosis. 

The RNIB report makes it abundantly clear: these changes are not merely desirable but urgently necessary. Blind and partially sighted individuals across England deserve timely access to the support that will make all the difference in their ability to lead safe, fulfilling, and independent lives. 

Councils Speak Out: Challenges and Frustrations 

It's important to note that many councils themselves feel frustrated by the current situation. They acknowledge the necessity of vision rehabilitation services, but find themselves operating with constrained resources. 

A spokesperson for Shropshire council emphasizes, “We acknowledge that some people are waiting too long for support, and we are working hard to reduce assessment waiting times, particularly for those that are a high priority.” Similarly, a Bradford council spokesperson stated, “We know there’s a greater demand on such services nationally, and we’re committed to working closely with our partners to provide the most effective and efficient service we can for people with visual impairments.” 

Funding constraints are a stark reality for local authorities. The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils in England, highlights the broader context. An LGA spokesperson explains: “Councils continue to face huge financial pressures… making difficult decisions about how to allocate resources following a decade of austerity.” 

The Economic Argument for Change 

While calls for increased funding can sometimes fall on deaf ears, there's a strong economic case to be made for adequately resourcing vision rehabilitation. Investing in timely support can yield significant long-term savings and benefits: 

  • Reduced Hospitalization Costs: Falls and related injuries are a major burden on the healthcare system. Properly trained individuals with vision loss are less likely to require costly hospital admissions. 
  • Greater Employment Potential: Vision rehabilitation empowers individuals to continue working or seek new employment opportunities tailored to their needs, bolstering their financial independence. 
  • Decreased Reliance on Social Services: Early intervention and support help reduce individuals' need for extensive social care assistance as they age. 
  • Improved Quality of Life: Promoting well-being and mental health through vision rehabilitation has a ripple effect on physical health and overall societal benefits. 

Beyond Statistics: The Human Cost 

The RNIB report goes beyond numbers and economic arguments. It drives home the all-too-human consequences of inadequate services. The tragic story from Shropshire reminds us that these delays are not mere inconveniences; they can have devastating, even fatal, consequences. 

Furthermore, think about people like Terry Quinn, who spent agonizing months feeling utterly lost and isolated. Imagine the countless others suffering in silence, their mental and emotional health deteriorating due to a lack of support. While some might adapt without formal rehabilitation, many others face a far more difficult and unnecessarily lonely path. 

The RNIB calls for nothing less than a fundamental cultural shift. Blind and partially sighted individuals should not be treated as an afterthought, nor should their essential needs be sacrificed due to bureaucratic delays or financial constraints. It's time for a system that treats vision loss with the same urgency and attention that would be afforded to any other life-changing health condition. 

A Call for Action: Creating a Future Without Delays 

The RNIB's report offers a stark exposé of the current unacceptable situation. However, it is also a clarion call for positive change. It's crucial that this report doesn't gather dust but instead ignites tangible action. Here's what stakeholders can do: 

  • Individuals: If you or someone you know is struggling with visual impairment, don't navigate the system alone. Contact the RNIB helpline (0303 123 9999) or visit their website  for resources and guidance. You have a right to support, so insist on it. 
  • Healthcare Providers: Eye care professionals and GPs have a crucial role. They must ensure newly diagnosed patients are fully informed about their right to vision rehabilitation and help them connect with local services. 
  • Councils: While facing severe funding challenges, councils must make difficult decisions. Prioritizing timely vision rehabilitation is essential, both as a moral obligation and a smart long-term investment. Collaboration and innovation can help stretch limited funds. 
  • National Government: The case for national oversight and increased targeted funding is undeniable. This issue cannot continue to be left to already-strained local authorities. Politicians across the spectrum must make this a part of their social care platforms. 
  • The Public: Greater awareness and advocacy are crucial. Share stories, contact your local representatives, and use social media to amplify the message that people with sight loss deserve better. 

A Vision for the Future 

Imagine a future where every newly diagnosed blind or partially sighted person in England receives timely support, not just the fortunate ones. This means assessments within weeks, not years. It means trained specialists guiding individuals through this transition with practical tools and unwavering emotional support. 

Let's envision a future where those with vision loss don't live in fear of falls or isolation. Instead, they confidently navigate their world, maintain their independence, and contribute fully to society. 

This report exposes a system in need of urgent reform. Yet, it's also a call to hope. The RNIB states: "With the political will, these barriers can be overcome." Through collaborative action, we can dismantle these barriers and ensure that all people living with visual impairment receive the care that will empower them to thrive. 

It's time to make this vision a reality. 

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