NEARLY 40% of people in North Wales at high risk of losing their sight are waiting too long for eye care, according to new statistics from the Welsh Government.

It has introduced a new target aimed at prioritising the most urgent patients and preventing those with treatable conditions losing their sight.

The figures mean 38.3% of all patients in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board area in the highest risk category waited longer than the target time.

In North Wales, 18,209 of the 29,519 high-risk patients were seen within the new target.

No health board in Wales met the target to see 95% of the most serious cases on time.

But Betsi Cadwaladr is the second worst performing health board, with only Cardiff and Vale meeting fewer of their target.

RNIB Cymru described the figures as "extremely worrying" but welcomed the publication of the new measure as a "turning point" in understanding the delays eye care patients face.

The Welsh Government is giving health boards more than £10m to improve eye care services.

Patients are given a maximum waiting time, according to their level of risk and how urgently they need to be seen.

Ninety-five percent of those in the highest category should not be seen later than 25% beyond their target wait - so a patient given an eight-week target should be seen within 10 weeks.

For the first time the target will include people waiting for follow-up appointments, as well as first-time patients.

Wales is the first UK nation to introduce a target for eye care patients based on the urgency of the condition, alongside the existing referral to treatment target.

This matters because diseases such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration can cause permanent blindness, whereas conditions such as cataracts can get worse but do not permanently harm vision.

A Betsi Cadwaladr spokesman said: “We are determined to reduce the number of patients waiting for a follow-up appointment, and ensure people who come under the eye care measure access the treatment they need as soon as possible.

“We are working closely with Welsh Government to reduce waiting times in North Wales. Practical measure we are taking include a new electronic patient referral system to improve the speed and efficiency of bookings, and investing in new models of care in the community to reduce waiting times.

“We are also assessing all patients listed as being at risk to ensure they are referred for the most appropriate treatment to meet their care needs."