Published on: 20 August 2020

A new 24/7 emergency phone line for people with urgent eye problems has proved a huge success with patients, allowing them to access specialist eye advice over the phone and reducing the need for unnecessary hospital visits.

The emergency number for Sunderland Eye Infirmary - 0191 5699952 - was introduced in April in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated social distancing rules. Rather than just turning up at the Sunderland Eye Infirmary’s Emergency Eye Department, patients now call the number and receive a consultation over the phone with an eye specialist. If the patient then needs to be seen face to face, an attendance time is arranged for them.

The number has been widely praised by patients already. In a survey to help South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust understand and learn from their experience of using the phone line, 92% of patients rated their experience as very positive or fairly positive. Ninety one per cent indicated they would be very likely or fairly likely to use it in the future if they urgently needed treatment for an eye condition. Ninety four per cent thought that the Eye Infirmary, which is the region’s specialist eye hospital and centre of excellence for ophthalmology care, should continue to offer the emergency phone line.

One respondent commented: “I was connected to the consultant on call. He asked all relevant questions and was very sympathetic and arranged for me to be seen by emergency staff straightaway.”  Another said that, in the light of the pandemic “it was good to be in a waiting room where there were not many people”. 

As well as helping to reduce the number of patients in the Emergency Eye Department at any one time to help with social distancing, the telephone line has also helped to reduce the amount of unnecessary attendances to Sunderland Eye Infirmary by providing expert advice and reassurance over the phone. 

Consultant Ophthalmologist, Mr Jean-Pierre Danjoux, South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust’s Clinical Director for Ophthalmology, said: “We need to make sure that we are doing everything to keep our patients and staff safe and so we are asking the public to continue doing their bit by not just turning up at our Emergency Eye Department but instead calling our new 24/7 emergency phone number first.

“The past few months have been a difficult time, but our priority throughout has been to continue to provide a safe and responsive service for those who need us day and night.  We have seen major benefits from introducing the new telephone triage system and it means patients get direct access to a specialist eye opinion without the need to travel to hospital.

“In many cases, patients with minor conditions have been safely reassured over the phone and those with more serious problems now benefit from a suggested time to attend the Emergency Eye Department at Sunderland Eye Infirmary so that we are ready to treat them straightaway on arrival. Ultimately, it means patients are getting the right advice, diagnosis and treatment, at the right time and in a way that is now much more convenient for them.

“While the emergency telephone number was introduced in response to COVID-19, the feedback from both patients and staff has been truly fantastic and we are keen to see the new and improved service continue.”

Advice for patients and the public:

  • Patients with an eye emergency are asked not to just turn up at the Emergency Eye Department at Sunderland Eye Infirmary but instead call the 24/7 emergency number on 0191 5699952 first
  • PLEASE NOTE – the 24/7 emergency phone line is for urgent eye conditions only and does not impact on other A&E services.