The care of patients with eye problems is being enhanced by a £90,000 investment in new diagnostic equipment at a South Cumbrian hospital.
An Optos imaging machine has been bought by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) to improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients from across North Lancashire and South Cumbria who attend the ophthalmology department’s macular unit at Westmorland General Hospital in Kendal.
The retinal imaging technology is on a par with specialist centres at hospital trusts in large cities such as Liverpool, Manchester and London.
Staff within the ophthalmology department are already seeing the benefits of the new machine as they are identifying an even greater number of conditions such as cancer and macular degeneration sooner. When issues are detected earlier, it can make conditions more treatable.
The ophthalmology team sees 60 to 70 patients per day and the Optos machine provides the opportunity for even more people to be seen and treated in a timely manner.
The Optos machine has replaced a previous device which had stopped working.
Linda Williams, manager of the ophthalmology departments at WGH and the Royal Lancaster Infirmary, said: “The Optos machine is fantastic – I can’t praise it highly enough. It’s very user-friendly and gives a greatly enhanced picture of what is going on with a person’s eyes.
“The Optos machine is patient-friendly and child-friendly.
“It’s already improving our service as we are able to see more patients sooner. The machine doesn’t require staff and patients to be face-to-face so everyone can keep a safe distance.
“This is proving to be very helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Optos machine enables the team to take pictures of the back of the eye and identify any problems using a technique called ‘fundus fluorescein angiography’.
This is a common procedure that is performed to gather information about the condition of the back of the eye.
A small amount of yellow fluorescein dye is injected into a vein in a patient’s hand or arm. The dye then travels to the eye where it highlights the blood vessels and any problems can be identified.
The team trialled three imaging machines before deciding on the Optos machine as it proved to offer the best results.
A single scan can take a detailed picture of the back of the eye, the surface of the eye and peripheral areas.
Linda said: “People can have various conditions affecting their eyes. For example, a person can have a mole at the back of their eye and not know about it.
“The Optos machine can detect melanomas at the back of the eye and this can be life-saving.
“In one recent clinic we found three melanomas in just one day.
“One scan can give us all of the information we need so patients don’t necessarily have to come back for repeat scans.”
Patients are usually referred to the ophthalmology department through opticians, GPs and occasionally through internal referrals.
Linda has put a training programme in place so that clinical support workers at the trust can become ophthalmic practitioners.
This frees up doctors and nurses to perform other clinical work.
At present, there is one Optos machine based at WGH so patients from across South Cumbria and North Lancashire are scanned in Kendal.
Linda added: “We do a lot of fundraising in our team and we are always trying to make improvements. We’re very well known for our fundraising cake sales.
“We have fantastic support from Lakshmi Patil, the trust’s associate specialist in ophthalmology, and matron Sue Howarth. We see thousands of patients in a year.
“Some of our patients need to come to see us on a regular basis and they become like part of the family. We know each and every patient and we have really great feedback from them.”