Blog: The Eye Have It (TEHI), Fight for Sight, eye research and the fight for an end to sight loss

02 August 22

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Did you know that reducing the prevalence of eye conditions by just one percent per year could avoid costs to the UK economy of up to £3.1 billion by the end of the decade? Clinical eye research and more investment towards new discoveries should be key to tackling this prevalence.

Fight for Sight is the leading UK charity 100% dedicated to funding sight-saving research. With the help of our supporters, we have been funding research for over 50 years.

The UK is a world leader in eye research, and work funded by Fight for Sight has a demonstrably high impact. For example, UK eye research receives over 10 percent more citations than the world average, and Fight for Sight-funded research is cited 80 percent more. Early-stage funding is crucial to getting potentially ground-breaking projects off the ground.

CEO Keith Valentine signing the pledge wall with his dog Dottie
Fight for Sight CEO Keith Valentine signs the pledge wall, alongside his excited guide dog Dottie

A much-needed alliance

‘The Eyes Have It’ is a partnership of Roche, Fight for Sight, the Macular Society, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the Association of Optometrists.

So why does TEHI exist and why is Fight for Sight involved?

Research suggests that between 15 and 22 patients a month will suffer severe deterioration of vision (including permanent sight loss) resulting from delays to follow up care; and that patients in England with deteriorating eye conditions could be lost in a fragmented and inconsistent care system. Despite some progress in reducing patient backlogs in ophthalmology since the Covid-19 lockdowns, there is evidence to suggest that many patients could be losing their vision due to failures to diagnose and delays in receiving follow-up care after initial referral.

Welcome news

We, The Eyes Have It (TEHI) partnership and other stakeholders in the eye care sector, have therefore welcomed the appointment of Louisa Wickham as the first National Clinical Director for Eye Care. As part of the call for a National Eye Health Strategy we want to work closely with the new NCD and the government to emphasise how integral clinical eye research is to patient care, providing ground-breaking treatments and working to end sight loss.

The Health and Care act 2022 states that the new Integrated Care Systems’ (ICS’) have an obligation ‘to ensure that eligible organisations for which the Integrated Care Board (ICB)is responsible to conduct research’ and requires ICS’ to ‘outline how they have, or plan to discharge such duties for research.’ There is a further requirement for ICB’s to outline how they plan to discharge such duties for research. ICB’s are also required to conduct research by ensuring requests from organisers of authorised clinical trials are considered and patients are offered the ability to participate.

The facilitation of research is defined within NHS England’s duty to promote research.

NHS England is also required to explain in its business plan and annual report how it proposes to discharge or has discharged its duty to facilitate or otherwise promote research etc.[1]

It is imperative that eye research plays a central role in this new obligation on NHS England.

We know that at present there is simply not enough investment to secure vital medical breakthroughs for the future. Just 1.5% of public research funding goes to sight-saving research each year. That is a total of just £9.60 for each person affected by sight loss in the UK.

Amongst the other policy requirements of The Eyes Have It (TEHI) partnership is: ‘Investing in data and digital transformation, the ophthalmology workforce and future research (The NCD should work with patient organisations, clinicians, and research bodies to develop a detailed sight loss research strategy, identifying specific areas of focus to address current unmet needs and improve patient care).’

This focus and strategy encompasses the aims of Fight for Sight and the other members of TEHI. We fully support the policy recommendations of TEHI and will continue to push for more awareness and investment towards eye research in order to help achieve our stated mission to end sight loss.

Pledge your support to improve the lives of people with sight loss.

[1] H&SC Act 2022, After Clause 4 in section 13L.