NEWPORT will host the UK’s first high street screening and treatment centre for people with an age-related eye condition, through a unique link-up between the NHS and a leading optician.

The ophthalmic diagnostic treatment centre, to be based in the city centre, will help reduce waiting times for assessment, diagnosis and treatment for people with Wet Age-related Macular Degeneration (Wet AMD) - which can permanently and significantly damage sight within days if left untreated.

With Welsh Government funding, Aneurin Bevan University Health Board has worked with Specsavers to create the Austin Friars Eye Treatment Centre, at the optician’s existing city centre premises.

Opticians will provide initial screening and referrals for people with symptoms of Wet AMD and NHS staff will treat the condition, also at the centre.

People in Gwent with Wet AMD will be treated there from Monday next week (September 5), with the centre providing assessments for patients from October.

Wet AMD affects the macula - part of the retina - at the back of the eye and if left untreated, can cause vision to deteriorate within days.

The current target for first treatment of Wet AMD, set by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), is 14 days.

“The purpose-built facility provides much needed additional capacity and will reduce congestion in the main eye clinic at the Royal Gwent Hospital,” said Chris Blyth, clinical director and consultant ophthalmologist.

“As a result, we expect waiting times and the number of delayed follow-up appointments to reduce.

“Our eye clinic staff look forward to using the new clinic, which is in a high street location that our patients can easily access.

“It will greatly improve the quality of service we can offer to people with some of the most common sight-threatening eye diseases in Gwent.”

Around 20 suspected Wet AMD cases a week are referred in Gwent, with 1,000 people treated every year. The centre will create an extra 1,600 appointments a year.

Specsavers’ optometrists will provide an initial screening service, the results of which will be reviewed virtually by a hospital-based ophthalmologist to speed up the process of diagnosis and referral for treatment.

The health board’s Wet AMD clinics at Nevill Hall Hospital and Ysbyty Ystrad Fawr will continue, but patients who would have been previously referred to the Royal Gwent Hospital will instead be seen at the new centre.

Craig MacKenzie, store optometrist director at Specsavers in Newport, said: “The speed that someone receives treatment for Wet AMD is absolutely crucial.

“We’re very excited to be part of such a groundbreaking collaboration and hope that this treatment centre will benefit thousands of Gwent residents in the years to come.”

Specsavers co-founder Doug Perkins called the centre “exactly the kind of enhanced optical service that we should seek to be involved in as optometrists, using our skills to the benefit of patients and helping to ease the pressure on the hospital service”.

The opening of the centre comes just months after the launch of a pioneering glaucoma service in Gwent, in which three community eye care centres set up, again at Specsavers in Austin Friars, and also at Julian Davies Opticians in Newport, and Phillips Opticians in Torfaen.