“It was an enormous support for me to be able to access the ECLOs service when I was in a time of need"

On the third floor of the Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion in Edinburgh is a busy office and consultation room. This is where RNIB Scotland’s Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) are based, working in partnership with NHS clinicians. A dedicated team work to assist people in treatment at the hospital, many of whom have just received a diagnosis of sight loss.

Where NHS staff work on the medical side, RNIB Scotland staff provide holistic, follow on care. Integration Stories was kindly invited to visit the team and spend time with them to hear about the work they do supporting people through a difficult time.

For people adapting to sight loss there are many challenges. Receiving a diagnosis is often a time of confusion and fear. Medical terms abound and trying to make sense of them is hard. The ECLOs team receive referrals from their NHS counterparts and pick up with people at their most vulnerable time.

Jo Hill, one of the ECLOs on the team experienced sudden sight loss herself, waking one morning with vision impairment in one eye. When her other eye was also affected a diagnosis was made. She told how the ECLOs team came to her assistance providing much needed reassurance and support. She said: “It was an enormous support for me to be able to access the ECLOs service when I was in a time of need. The sight loss I had was very sudden and I didn’t know which way to turn. It was an enormous help just to see me through the initial stages.”

Jo’s experience means she brings a breadth of understanding to her role. She is able to empathise with those who access the service and provide them with the emotional care that is needed.

A consultant and nurse explained that where their role ends, the ECLOs team steps in to provide the essential ongoing input required by people attending the hospital. The ECLOs team spend considerable time assessing needs through good conversation, discussing challenges and difficulties faced and putting in place practical support.

Once referred to the team people accessing the service can drop in anytime for help as and when it is needed. Essentially operating an open door at this stage, people are encouraged to seek the assistance they need.

From referring to low vision assessments to enable people to access equipment and aids, to providing support on benefits entitlement and signposting to other services such as befriending and social groups, the team tackles the problem of isolation experienced by many with sight loss. In addition people are referred to the local Sensory Impairment Teams for rehabilitation, an essential service for many. It was clear through meeting some of the people who came along to the service just how valuable it is. The team are committed to easing the journey of adapting to sight loss and the impact they have on people was obvious.

Rosemary Cameron, manager of the service, is a strong advocate of the team’s work, saying: “It can be devastating news for people, there’s a sense of loss and it’s about being there to offer reassurance, supporting people through that maze of the health and social care world and ensuring that people leave the hospital with a sense of hope rather than a sense of dread, knowing they’ve got a key person that’s going to be there.”

The service is one of RNIB’s ten sites across Scotland providing support in the clinical environment. Key to the work of the team in Edinburgh is the informal environment of the consultation area in contrast to the medical setting. This helps people relax and gives them space to open up on their thoughts and feelings, giving them the time to talk and seek advice.

This is a powerful partnership between the NHS and the third sector that truly puts the needs of the individual at its centre. It is an essential service that illustrates the importance of integration across health and social care, highlighting the benefits to those accessing services.

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