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20 May 2014

MP sees the benefits of vision support role

Bristol West MP Stephen Williams visited Bristol Eye Hospital on Friday to find out about support for patients who are dealing with sight loss.

Mr Williams met eye clinic liaison officer (ECLO) Laura Kirby, whose job it is to give practical advice and emotional support to people who are losing their sight.

Laura explained: "The impact is different for every patient. For example, some feel a loss of identity when they realise they can't drive anymore, particularly if their job involves driving.

"Others fear they will lose their independence if they can't get out and about on their own. Part of my role is to discuss with patients what their fears are and to try to find ways those can be overcome."

Laura added: "I enjoy my role because it gives me the chance to help patients when they are at their most vulnerable. Often patients just want someone to talk to. I have the time that unfortunately clinical staff don't have during appointments, and can talk them through all sorts of difficulties. Patients can call me at any time, even if it is months after the diagnosis."

As well as a tour of the Eye Hospital, Mr Williams attended a focus group where he met consultants, nurses, patients and support workers, who explained the impact of having an ECLO and the benefits it offers to patients.

Mr Williams said: "Obviously, losing your sight affects every aspect of your life, so the role of the ECLO is very much appreciated by the patients, to be that first port of call for the information and guidance people will need once they've had their clinical diagnosis."

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is campaigning for the wider use of ECLOs. Mike Bell, South West regional campaigns officer for the RNIB said: "Sight loss advisers offer emotional support and practical advice to people who are losing their sight. They help people understand their eye condition and explain how to take treatment that might prevent further sight loss. Based in eye clinics and hospitals, sight loss advisers are a vital link to services such as counselling, workplace support and rehabilitation, so that people can adapt to life with sight loss while remaining independent.

"More than two thirds of all eye clinics in the South West do not offer any dedicated support to people who are losing their sight. That is something that needs to change. It's fantastic Bristol Eye Hospital has someone to work with organisations like the RNIB, to be there for people when they need us."