EYE care patients in Wales who are at the greatest risk of going blind are set to receive faster, prioritised NHS treatment.

The Welsh Government is investing £3.3 million into speeding up services, on the back of a review that focused on patients' waiting list experiences.

Around 111,000 people in Wales are living with sight loss, a figure predicted to rise by a third by 2030, and to double by 2050.

Evidence suggests that around 10 per cent of new patients are at risk of irreversible sight loss, compared to about 90 per cent of follow-up patients.

Consultant ophthalmologists and the charity RNIB raised concerns about waiting times, and a Welsh Government-commissioned, NHS-led group carried out the review, with an emphasis on those who need ongoing treatment.

The £3.3m will enable health boards to start changing services, with key actions including:

• Expansion of services already in place to move care closer to home, to ensure patients are seen in the most appropriate setting;

• Redesign pathways to treatment to comply with those that have been nationally agreed;

• Introduction and further development of 'virtual' clinics;

• Broadening the skill mix of staff, to include nurse injectors and optometrists, to safely share care between community and hospital eye care professionals.

New guidelines to run from April will require hospital eye services to have procedures in place ensuring patients receive their assessment or treatment by the most suitable person within a clinically appropriate time. High risk patients who need be seen quickly due to their condition, should experience fewer delays.

The measures are based on priority and the urgency of the care needed by each patient. Priority is the risk of harm associated with the patient’s eye condition if the target appointment date is missed.

Urgency is how soon that patient should be seen given the current state and/or risk of progression of their eye condition.

Wales is the first UK nation to introduce a measure of this kind for eye care patients.

“We do not want people to risk their sight by having to wait a long time for a follow up appointment after having initial assessment," said health minister Vaughan Gething.

“We were the first government in the world to have an eye care delivery plan, and I’m pleased we are leading the way again by being the first country in the UK to introduce a performance measure of this kind for eye care.”

RNIB Cymru director Ansley Workman said cancelled and delayed eye clinic appointments can leave patients at risk of irreversible sight loss.

"No one should lose their sight because of a treatable condition. That’s why it’s so important that all health boards meet the March 2019 deadline for implementing the new measures, and prioritise patients based on their risk of coming to harm,"she said.