Over the last few weeks a number of constituents have written to me about the Low Vision service in Brighton and Hove. It’s currently funded by Brighton and Hove Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), but they have made the decision to no longer commission the service.
Constituents have told me about the incredible support they have received from the Low Vision service, which has been invaluable when they’ve had to face the fear and trauma that a diagnosis of sight loss can bring.
Research carried out by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) found that people believe that losing their sight would have a bigger impact on their life than other long-term health conditions, with fears that they would lose their independence and jobs.
With sight loss having the potential to impact on every part of our lives; driving, reading, the ability to cook a meal, or pop to the shop, it’s easy to understand why low vision and sight loss are such a daunting and frightening diagnosis to receive.
That’s why specialist support and advice at the outset is so important. The Low Vision service provides this, and the fact it’s at risk because of the CCG’s commissioning decision is alarming.
The RNIB say that “research has revealed that sight loss advisers create significant financial savings for health and social care budgets with every £1 invested in the service delivering a return of £10.57.” So whilst short term ‘savings’ might be gained by not commissioning a valuable service with an excellent reputation, it runs the risk of future problems being created, which could have been prevented, and which are likely to be more costly in the long-term.
Earlier today I had the opportunity to drop into Montague House, where the Low Vision service is based, and I was impressed by what I saw. The assessments they carry out provide reassurance, emotional support, and positive encouragement, in addition to giving the practical advice about visual aids and support needed to make independent living easier.
I’ve written to the CCG to stress my concerns about their decision. I’ve also written to the Executive Director of Health and Adult Social Care at Brighton and Hove City Council about the impact the loss of the service will have.
Whilst this decision has been made locally, unpalatable commissioning decisions are being made because of the government’s continued assault on our public services. With cuts to NHS funding, local authority budgets, and social care over consecutive years since 2010 – the situation is dire, with vital services being lost, or at risk of closure. I will continue to challenge the government on its relentless and damaging austerity drive, in addition to urging local decision-makers to re-look at the decision to stop funding the Low Vision service in the city.
I’ve heard that discussions are taking place around the Council funding a scaled-down service for a year, just for Brighton and Hove residents. This would obviously be welcome, but short-term stop gaps are not the answer, the Low Vision service needs to properly be recognised for the important preventative work it does, which saves money in the long-term by preventing accidents, increasing independent living, and decreasing the strain on social care.