THOUSANDS of eye patients are to be treated in community settings such as a health centre or high street optician, in Darlington and County Durham to ease pressure on overstretched hospital ophthalmology departments.

A report to Darlington Borough Council’s health and housing scrutiny committee states NHS bosses intend to launch a community eye care service to deliver virtual glaucoma monitoring, and stable ocular hypertension and post-operation cataract care closer to patients’ homes from April 2020, rather than at hospitals in Durham, Darlington and Bishop Auckland.

Patients attending the community settings will receive their care and monitoring by qualified practitioners with specialist training and experience as specified by NICE guidelines, working under the supervision of a consultant ophthalmologist.

The Royal National Institute for Blind People sight loss tool estimates 1,010 people in Darlington are living with glaucoma, and this is expected to increase by six per cent over the next decade.

NHS bosses say reducing the number of review attendances at hospitals will create capacity at overstretched outpatient clinics to allow consultant ophthalmologists and the teams to manage newly diagnosed and more complex patients.

It has been forecast there are about 2,000 suitable patients that could be transferred to a community virtual glaucoma monitoring service and 2,300 patients suitable to transfer to a post-op cataract service.

After holding a series of engagement events to discuss the proposed changes to the service, NHS bosses said the majority of patients said they would find it easier to attend a community service in the high street for their care monitoring.