A woman received treatment which may have stopped her going blind in one eye thanks to a pioneering eye care service running through Stafford and Cannock optometrists.
Mother-of-two Claire Meehan, aged 37, of Attlee Crescent in Rugeley, was diagnosed with acanthamoebic keratitis after optometrists at Colin Lee Opticians, in Market Street, Rugeley, raised the alarm.
Optometrist Gina Larkin, who examined Claire, said: “Acanthamoebic keratitis can be a very difficult condition to diagnose as the pain and symptoms can be far worse than anything you can actually see in the eye.
“But it can cause a great deal of damage and be sight-threatening if it is not spotted early.”
Claire noticed soreness and inflammation in her right eye over the weekend of 16-17 July, 2016. At first she tried to ignore the problem and went to work the following Monday to her job as a nurse at a local nursing home. But the swelling got worse and she left work early and made an appointment to see her GP.
On the Tuesday morning (19 July) her GP referred Claire to her local optician through the community optometrist-led Primary Eye care Assessment & Treatment Service (PEATS) scheme. They contacted her and gave her an appointment the same day.
Optometrist Gina Larkin at Colin Lee Opticians checked her eye but could detect no problems beyond the inflammation and suspected conjunctivitis. However, she still had concerns so asked Claire to return for a follow-up appointment.
On 22 July a colleague examined Claire and could still see no obvious problems. He prescribed lubricants and asked Claire to return for a check-up on 28 July.
At this follow-up appointment Gina found an ulcer and immediately referred Claire to the Opthalmology department at New Cross Hospital in Wolverhampton, suspecting the parasitic infection acanthamoebic keratitis.
Claire was seen the following morning (July 29) and tests confirmed that Claire had the serious infection. She was given antibiotics and eye drops to be administered hourly and is now responding well to on-going medical treatment.
Claire said: "The service I had was brilliant. I was in a lot of pain and if I hadn't gone to see Gina that day who knows what might have happened. They picked up that I had a problem and treated it very quickly. I was told that they'd seen younger people than me lose their sight as a result of this parasite.
"The PEATS service is great - I went to my own local optician where I get my contact lenses - they know my family and they know my medical history, which really helps."
Patients in the Stafford and Cannock areas seeking acute and non-acute care for issues such as such as sore red eyes, flashes and floaters in the vision, recent sudden loss of vision, or foreign body/minor trauma to the eye can self-refer to the PEATS service by simply dropping in to their optometrist, where they can be seen quickly or be directed to someone nearby who can help.
And GPs, pharmacists and other health professionals seeking help for their patients can also choose to refer patients directly to a participating PEATS practitioner.
Gina Larkin added: “I believe PEATS is a very worthwhile service. In the past, if somebody came in with a problem I would be required to do a full eye inspection including a spectacle refraction before I could do anything else. Now we can deal with the problem they have come in with straight away, making full use of our clinical skills and equipment.
“Thanks to our training and experience we are more used to dealing with eye problems than GPs, so we can deal with these problems quickly and relieve the pressure on other services. I have dealt with around 100 patients through the PEATS scheme, but have only had to refer three on to hospital. Many of these patients would have had to be referred to hospital by their GPs if it were not for PEATS.”