Sight loss charity ensures their support covers the vast region of the Highlands and Islands.
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The national sight loss charity RNIB supports people who have eyesight problems.
Eye clinic liaison officer (ECLO) Maeve Lawler helps provide this support across the region.
She offers emotional reassurance and practical aid that people may require – helping patients understand the changes to their life.
There are RNIB ECLOs in health boards across the UK, but Maeve has the widest remit. Based in Inverness, she covers the north Highlands and the islands.
She offers a combination of in-person, over the phone and online support.
“I fly to Stornoway and Kirkwall and drive to Wick, and plan ahead to make sure I can reach as many patients as possible,” she said.
“I’m always aware when planning that there may be potential disruptions.”
There are a wide variety of concerns that her clients first bring to her.
“People can go through a whole range of emotions – shock, denial, anger, fear and grief,” she said.
“We help patients talk through their concerns. When the person is ready we can give advice on how to lessen any impact their eye condition may have on them.”
Maeve has patients of all ages. Young people are often concerned about gaining support in higher education or employment. Families may struggle with their relatives’ diagnosis. Maeve advises families and carers to help them support the patient.
Each person is different and approaches sight loss in different ways.
Taking the time to listen to and understand each person individually is very important, Maeve emphasises.
“Giving the person the time to process what is happening and reacting to them accordingly is most important,” she said.
“Reassuring them that you are there to support them and that, even if they don’t need that support right now, they can come back to you when they feel they are ready for it.”
The ECLO service had to adapt during lockdown. Many ophthalmology clinics were cancelled leaving people anxious about their eye conditions and the treatment they had been getting.
“When appointments were cancelled, the clinicians spent time going through their lists of patients and they identified those who may need further support. I was then able to contact them to discuss any concerns they had.
“If any needed further support, RNIB then offered them a ‘stay-in-touch’ call. These were weekly phone calls from the ECLO and they lasted as long as needed on an individual basis.
“During these calls we would discuss how the patient has been doing since our last call and if their needs had changed or if they required any further support.”
Maeve’s position is unlike other ECLO’s due to the geography she covers.
“Some patients can feel isolated from help and support and that’s where I feel my role fills a gap,” she explains.
“Some people have to travel a long distance to get to their hospital appointments. They may have an all-day round trip. After their clinic appointment they do not always have time to talk to the ECLO and so calling them at a time when they are at home provides an opportunity for them to discuss in more detail the concerns they have.
“I do think our service is invaluable. I speak to people from all walks of life who don’t know what help is out there or how to access it. Without contact with an ECLO, they may never find out about the wide range of support available through the RNIB as well as other local and national organisations.
“The clinical team in hospitals also really value the service as well. They will come to me with questions and we work together to support the patient.
“Without an ECLO service, I feel that people would not have the assistance they need to understand their sight condition and come to terms with it. Our ECLO service helps patients to maintain their independence and confidence and provides reassurance and a point of contact to ask questions.
“Without our service, people may lose confidence and find it difficult to cope, leading to social isolation and depression.”