The National Eye Research Centre believes the UK is facing an eye health ticking time bomb, which could have serious implications for the economy, health services and society.
The charity has launched a campaign, inSIGHTS to a healthy future, calling upon Government, health and eye care organisations to increase research funding in the face of a predicted explosion in eye disease.
The campaign follows new analysis by the National Eye Research Centre which reveals:
- The ageing population and rise in obesity-related diabetes is already having a significant effect on levels of eye disease in the UK;
- A conservative estimate of some 3 million over 65s, equating to one in six elderly people, could have severe sight threatening disease or loss by 2050 based on current rates and future demographic and eye disease projections;
- The real scale of the problem is not known as it is not measured in a comprehensive way;
- Eye health is a rare feature on hospital targets as it is not normally immediately life threatening, despite the fact that blindness is one of the most feared health conditions after cancer;
- A common misconception that eye disease and blindness is a problem of the past with many aspects of eye care having become too routine, such as laser eye surgery and cataract removals.
Download the manifesto document here: inSIGHTS Manifesto 4 2 2015 FINAL.pdf
Pictured is HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO, Patron of National Eye Research Centre, launching the Insights Manifesto at a Parliamentary Reception at the House of Commons on 4 February 2015.
Why the campaign?
Simply, funding is not keeping up with the scale of the eye disease problem in the UK.
- Forty people lose their sight in the UK every day and two million are living with a degree of sight loss that has a significant impact on their daily lives: this figure is set to double by 2050, driven by an ageing population and unhealthy lifestyles linked to diabetes
- Less than 1% of all medical research funding goes into eye research (Of the £1,294m spent by members of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), only 0.7% is spent on eye research. It is massively underfunded when compared to medical conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
- It is estimated that 40,000 people a year currently develop age-related macular degeneration (wet AMD); and another 44,000 people a year are diagnosed with the untreatable form of AMD known as dry AMD. Macular Degeneration is the most common form of age related blindness and its prevalence quadruples every decade of life after 70.
- Over half the population are forecast to be obese by 2050 and diabetes is a common consequence. The risk to people with diabetes of developing glaucoma is 50% higher; and they have a threefold increased risk of developing cataracts.
- Partial sight and blindness in adults costs the UK economy around £22 billion and is a major burden on healthcare services.
- It is estimated that treating and caring for people with eye conditions costs in the region of £5 billion per year.
- National Eye Research alone receives 50% more applications for funding than it can afford to support.
Why eye health research?
Margaret Hancock’s story illustrates why more funding is needed to bring about breakthrough eye treatments which can enhance the eye health of the nation.
Margaret suffered from Keratoconus, an eye condition in which the normally round dome-shaped clear window of the eye (the cornea) progressively thins, causing a cone-shaped bulge to develop. This meant that for 23 years she was progressively going blind.
When Margaret first attended the Eye Hospital in Bristol there was only a 50/50 chance that a corneal graft would save her sight. Anxious about undergoing an operation with these odds, Margaret decided not to go ahead with the procedure.
During this time, research funded by the National Eye Research Centre improved this success rate to around 90%. So, in 1990, she finally decided to go ahead and have one eye operated on. The operation took place on the Thursday and by Saturday her sight was already recovering. The following year she had the other eye grafted, with equal success.
Margaret’s world improved dramatically: she could see her family’s faces, watch television and read books. She could enjoy experiences many of us don’t think twice about, such as a spider spinning its web. Her independence also improved dramatically, as she could go out on her own and say "hello" to people. Previously she couldn’t see them and they would just walk by, ignoring her.
Says Margaret: “I feel so lucky. Without the research that developed the corneal graft procedure I would be blind and dependent on a guide dog. Now 3,500 people benefit every year from the life-changing procedure of a corneal graft; all made possible by the research funded by National Eye Research Centre.”
inSIGHTS to a healthy future welcomes the support of its campaign partner charities:
Rt Hon Annette Brooke OBE MP, of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Eye Health and Visual Impairment, said: “Eye research has been overlooked by the medical world for too long. Our ageing population is only going to see huge increases in eye conditions; and we are currently ill prepared to manage them – let alone cure them.”
- Steve Winyard, Head of Membership and Campaigns from RNIB, said: “Partial sight and blindness in adults costs the UK economy around £22 billion per year. Factoring in the projections of our aging society and the conditions associated with it; that number will only increase dramatically. It is time eye research received the attention it deserves.”
- Macular Society
- Cathy Yelf, Head of External Affairs from the Macular Society, added: “There is a misconception that age related eye disease is a problem of the past. Yes, science has taken huge strides – cataract procedures are now routine and safe. But only approximately 10% of macular degeneration is treatable. Moreover, the existing drugs only slow the progress of the condition and are among the most expensive the NHS uses. We need new treatments now.”
- Diabetes UK
- Tracy Kelly, Head of Clinical Care for Diabetes UK, said: “Eye health is important for everybody, but for people with diabetes it’s even more important to have regular check-ups and keep eyes healthy as the condition can cause blindness. In many cases damage to the eyes caused by long periods of high glucose levels can be preventable if caught in time. Cataracts, glaucoma and retinopathy are all devastating conditions to live with, which is why we are supporting the National Eye Research Centre call for more money to be spent on eye research.”
- Karen Addington (pictured), Chief Executive of type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said: “Unlike type 2 diabetes, the development of type 1 is not linked to lifestyle or diet factors. But type 1 is also on the rise, and it can also lead to blindness. Sight can be saved – if research is supported.”JDRF funds research to cure, treat and prevent type 1 diabetes. It provides information for children, adults and parents living with the condition, at all stages from diagnosis and beyond. JDRF gives a voice to people with type 1 diabetes and campaigns for increased focus on, and funding for, research to find the cure. Our Twitter handle is @JDRFUK and you can find us on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/JDRFUK