In sight: A review of the visual impairment sector

Almost two million people in the UK live with some degree of sight loss. Yet more than half of this loss could be avoided—by wearing correctly-prescribed glasses, or accessing the right treatment at the right time. This report, generously supported by The Clothworkers’ Foundation, reviews the visual impairment sector and the medical research sector, and makes a series of recommendations for funding.

An accessible version of this report, developed according to RNIB’s Clear Print design guidelines, is available to download.

A four-page executive summary is also available in an accessible format.

Visual impairment is a growing problem: the number of people with sight loss is expected to double by 2050 as the population ages and underlying causes like diabetes and obesity increase. Eye care services are stretched, and the NHS faces a perfect storm of growing need and squeezed budgets. But the visual impairment sector is rising to the challenge, and uniting in a way not seen before to push for positive change.

This promising trend of collaboration could help the sector work together to identify, treat and prevent sight loss, and deliver the joined-up care that is badly needed. The voluntary sector also has a key role to play in raising awareness: the public is not well-informed about the importance of eye health and the hereditary nature of some eye diseases.

Older people and visual impairment

Older people wait too long to engage with eye care; many see sight loss as a natural part of ageing. 50-70% of sight loss in older people is treatable, but less than half of over-60s have an annual sight test. Adding to this, support to adjust to visual impairment is insufficient.

  • Investing in early intervention services: a strong public health campaign could challenge assumptions that sight loss is a natural part of ageing, and emphasise good eye health. Practical changes could remove barriers to accessing eye tests, and more ECLOs could provide ongoing support for people to stay independent.
  • Developing joined-up working across the charity and public sectors could increase understanding of visual impairment in wider health services and charities working with older people.

Medical research

Eye research is underfunded, and infrastructure not prioritised. With growing need, the case for investment in eye medical research is strong.

  • A strong sector profile and united voice to support medical research: cross-sector support is growing, and can be built on to raise the profile of eye disease with an awareness campaign.
  • Ensuring the right research in the right way: more resources in areas such as translational research can target the gap between basic discoveries and clinical trials. Private funding can move research along.
  • Structuring medical research to achieve maximum impact: investing in the next generation of scientists; developing a more connected research network; building alliances with commercial companies interested in eye health; and creating a data repository to provide reliable eye research data.

What next?

Raising awareness, together with investment in research and the right technology, could help overcome many of the negatives associated with loss of sight. This report explains the work charities are doing in the visual impairment sector and the state of the medical research sector, and makes a series of recommendations for funding.