The charity Blind Children UK (formerly the National Blind Children's Society) has today, 27 May 2014, launched a campaign to raise awareness of the increase in the number of children suffering sight problems which are partly caused by delays in recognising and acting on early signs and symptoms of visual problems.
Research by the charity highlights that the number of children being born or developing sight loss within their first five years has increased significantly in recent years. The UK-wide data on which the research is based show that the number of children registered blind or partially sighted has increased by 9% since 2006 rising to 12% in the under-5s age group.
The research concluded that, in many cases, a delay in diagnosis led to impaired child development. Blind Children UK conducted a national survey of affected parents and children as part of its study. It found that a quarter had to wait over a year for visual impairment to be diagnosed, almost half of whom believed this had a detrimental effect on their child's development because they could not access local authority and education support in the meantime. It is hardly surprising that 93% of the parents surveyed reported feeling depressed, isolated or upset as a result.
Andrew Clayton, senior associate in Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team, comments: "Early diagnosis of sight loss and visual impairment can sometimes be complex but this research clearly highlightsthat much more needs to be done to catch these problems early. Routine baby health checks through primary care in the early years, greater awareness of the signs and symptoms, and prompt action to investigate and diagnose visual impairment are all essential. As Blind Children UK identifies, a huge amount of children's learning is visual. Children who are undiagnosed face huge disadvantage and are being denied basic education and opportunities for social interaction which, in turn, affects those caring for them.
"Penningtons Manches is pleased to help raise awareness for this important aspect of child health and the steps that parents can take to watch for signs of visual impairment. Blind Children UK is producing leaflets for new parents and has produced a short film, accessible through its website, to promote greater awareness. Key signs include abnormalities and unusual appearance of the eyes or lids, including inflammation, redness, cloudiness or wateriness; odd or constant movement of the eyes; abnormal head posture; discomfort at bright lights; and signs of itchiness, for example, if the child is rubbing its eyes excessively.
"We would urge all parents to be familiar with and conscious of signs and symptoms suggesting problems with visual impairment and to ensure that such concerns are taken seriously by health professionals involved with their children. Many of these signs may be mild and transient but early diagnosis of more insidious conditions is key to achieving the best outcome for sight and, if this cannot be saved or restored, ensuring that proper support is in place for both children and carers. As a team, we have several cases where parents have raised concerns about sight issues in their children at an early age but these have been initially dismissed and then investigated without urgency. In each case, that delay has resulted in a poorer outcome than had action been taken when the concerns were first raised – and we hope this campaign will help reduce these occurrences."