A national healthcare innovation body is seeking novel eye-care solutions and technologies to help the NHS address pandemic-related patient backlogs.

InnoScot Health is calling on healthcare workers to propose new ways of working to support under pressure ophthalmologists.

Ophthalmology has been identified as a ’priority area’ for the NHS’s recovery plan in Scotland after Covid-19 led to patients being unable to see ophthalmologists and optometrists.

As a result, waiting lists and backlogs grew, meaning individuals with eye problems saw a worsening of their condition over the course of the pandemic.

Normal service has largely now resumed although there remains a significant accumulation of people still requiring treatment. InnoScot Health – formerly Scottish Healthcare Innovations Ltd – is therefore encouraging the diverse NHS Scotland workforce to come up with new ways of working and identifying ways to reduce the backlogs.

Robert Rea, InnoScot Health’s head of innovation, said: “There are few areas of healthcare that have been as dramatically affected across the last few years as ophthalmology, with the pandemic increasing waiting lists, storing up significant health problems for patients, and placing considerable pressure on staff.

“That’s why our call is so important at this time – to advance innovative eye care solutions for important unmet needs and improve the lives of people living with vision loss and eye disease.

“Innovation has the power to unlock fresh, inspired solutions that can tackle issues head on and lay the foundations for further positive change in diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.’

He added: “InnoScot Health is seeking ophthalmic innovations from any health board and any role or medical discipline, so if you have an idea, then please do get in touch with our team of experts.

“We are particularly looking for innovations that have commercial potential – ones that can be developed as a new product and generate income.

“Innovation in this area is very often, though not always, a new medical device, but could also be an accessory of some sort or a training tool such as an educational board game.

“We also evaluate digital solutions such as forward-thinking apps, and where innovators come to us with ideas relating to new processes or services, we endeavour to identify the most appropriate partner agency to support it and take it further forward.

“Inventions that are co-developed with non-NHS parties can also be supported by us as long as there is a defined NHS input/staff member involved in the project.”

A free to attend virtual briefing event – taking place on Tuesday 13 October at 10am – will serve as an introduction to the call while laying out the support available to health and social care staff submitting their ideas. You can register for the event here.

InnoScot Health has worked in partnership with NHS Scotland since 2002 to inspire fresh ideas from the 160,000-strong workforce. Its team will rapidly assess and support selected innovations from concept to final product.

InnoScot Health has worked with NHS Scotland innovators numerous times over the years on ophthalmic innovations including Peekaboo Vision, an app created by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, Multifocal Retinal Imager, developed in collaboration with Wideblue, and the iGrading platform, a diabetic retinopathy screening tool developed by InnoScot Health, working with NHS Grampian, the University of Aberdeen and Medalytix Ltd.

Dr Iain Livingstone, ophthalmologist at NHS Forth Valley, said: “Personally, I see a major change in the transition from ‘light of sight’ technology to digital presentations. There has been some fledgeling work around a new optical system for the slit lamp – a microscope with a bright light used during an eye exam – that is applicable to examination, surgery, and 3D transmission. 

“Apple meanwhile is set to announce a headset that has more processing power than its top MacBook, and Meta is set to update its Quest 2 headset. I see ophthalmology leaning on mixed/virtual/augmented reality for examination and surgery over the next 10 years.

“Across NHS Scotland, rising patient demand is a major issue, and it’s no different in ophthalmology services. To be able to expand and improve the services that we offer, new ideas and innovations will be key to the overall provision of health and care.

“NHS Scotland has a diverse workforce, innovative ideas from which the quality of care we provide can be improved by virtue of having real, first-hand experience of patient’s needs. InnoScot Health’s remit includes support on taking ideas forward.”

Some of the main areas of concern are around Diabetic Retinopathy, Age Related Macular Degeneration (wet and dry), Glaucoma and Cataract which account for the majority of outpatient appointments.

Professor Roshini Sanders, Ophthalmology lead at the Chief Scientist Office for NHS Research Scotland added: “The NHS is currently challenged with massive backlogs.

“Those with chronic long-term eye diseases such as glaucoma accounting for over 60,00 patients in Scotland stand to lose vision with delayed appointments.

“However, this call could provide new ways to innovate our way through those significant backlogs and identify meaningful solutions.”