The fire service has referred more than 50 people for life changing eyesight support under a successful partnership with charities for the blind.
The referrals have been made thanks to ‘Optimeyes’- a two year partnership between South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue (SYFR) and Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB).
The scheme has trained dozens of fire service staff in delivering a simple, five minute sight screening tool to assess sight problems. The assessment is now built into the fire service’s established programme of home safety visits.
More than 7,000 people have been given sight loss information by the fire service in South Yorkshire and offered a specially developed screening tool if required, with at least 55 people referred to local charity Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind (SRSB) for further interventions.
One of those helped by the scheme was a Sheffield woman who was referred for support after suffering a blaze in her home.
Dawn Caney, aged 60, was referred for specialist sight loss support after fire service staff noticed cataracts may have contributed to the incident.
Dawn has now spoken to a hospital consultant about undergoing surgery on her cataracts, is visited by a physiotherapist to help her walking and referred to a care agency who help her with day-to-day tasks.
Dawn said: “I noticed that my eyes were getting bad about three years ago when things started to look blurred and I got a lot of headaches. I used to go out to the local shops every day but it got too difficult for me to manage the steps down from my first floor flat, I just couldn’t see the rubbish. I was frightened of slipping, so I stopped going out, except to the rubbish chute. I was also frightened because I didn’t know why I couldn’t see clearly anymore. I thought it was because I smoked and that was what was causing everything to be blurred. Now I know it’s also because I have got cataracts so that’s a bit of a relief in some ways.
“I had an incident at my flat and the fire service came out. They sent a home safety officer out to visit me after that to check that my flat was well protected with smoke alarms and that I knew how to avoid the risks of having another incident. The home safety officer noticed that I couldn’t see clearly and referred me to Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind who I had heard of, but didn’t know how to get in touch with. I also didn’t know that they helped people like me who weren’t totally blind.
“Since then my life has changed a lot, all for the better. A Community Advice Officer from SRSB came to my flat and has arranged appointments and support for me. I’ve been able to tell her all my problems and she always listens and asks me what I want and what I prefer. She gives me time to think about things first so I don’t feel pressured into making decisions. It feels like I have some say in my life again.
“My support worker is helping me to trust people again and I now get out of my flat at least once a week. I would say there have been lots of positive changes in my life since February thanks to being referred to SRSB by the South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.”
Although the two year Optimeyes project has come to an end, fire staff will continue to refer people with sight loss issues to Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind providing a lasting benefit for local people.
SYFR Area Manager Steve Helps, said: “This is all about making every contact we have with local people count. We believe the fire service can play a much wider role in terms of tackling some of the big health challenges our country faces in the future. This scheme is the perfect illustration of that aspiration, where the fire service’s contact with some of the most vulnerable people in society is being used to do more than just prevent house fires.”