A man who was forced to give up his 40-year career in driving after being diagnosed with a sight-threatening condition is praising a pioneering eye treatment centre.

Former lorry driver Micheal Saunders, 74, visits the Austin Friars Eye Treatment Centre in Newport every four weeks for treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD), an eye condition that is the leading cause of vision loss and has left Micheal unable to work.

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

First of its kind

The centre is a collaboration between the Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Specsavers in Newport, and is the first of its kind in the UK where a high street opticians provides initial screening and referrals for people with symptoms of wet AMD, and NHS staff deliver treatment for the condition at the same location.

Micheal visited Specsavers in 2007 after experiencing problems with his vision. ‘When I was first diagnosed 10 years ago, treatment for AMD wasn’t available on the NHS in Wales,’ he says.

‘It was like I was hit in the chest when I was told I couldn’t drive anymore. It was a huge part of my life – I’d driven throughout the UK, Europe and America so to have this taken away from me has been really tough.’

Reduced waiting times

Since opening in September 2016, the Austin Friars Eye Treatment Centre has reduced waiting times for assessment, diagnosis and treatment for people with the age-related eye condition.

Micheal adds: ‘For years I was treated at hospital, which would often mean long waiting times, but since the eye centre has opened it has been fantastic. It’s taken away the stress from having the treatment every month, which is why I think every Specsavers store should have a specialist centre.’

Jason Williams, director of Specsavers Newport, says: ‘The speed that someone receives treatment for wet AMD is absolutely crucial. With more collaborations between primary and secondary healthcare providers, it will give patients faster access to assessment and treatment.

‘Regular sight tests are essential to monitor a person’s eye health as a simple test can be the first step in prevention of sight loss, and if anyone experiences changes to their vision, just like Micheal, they must visit their optician immediately.’

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