A TOTAL of £1.6m has been invested in a major overhaul and expansion of the Great Western Hospital’s strained ophthalmology service.

Over the years, demand for the service has increased exponentially and in January the department was forced to close to new patients until the summer to allow staff to catch up.

Now GWH has announced it will plough £1.6m to provide 28 additional clinics each week and launch a satellite service from Eldene Surgery as well as recruiting new staff.

At a meeting of the council’s health overview and scrutiny committee, GWH chief executive Nerissa Vaughn said: “Ophthal-mology has been a problem in Swindon for a long time and we want to make sure that we improve.

“There is significant pressure on the hospital and we want to make sure the service is sustainable in the long term.

“We approved £1.6m to recruit new staff and we have been working closely with the clinical commissioning group to develop outreach clinics at Eldene Surgery.

“The department is too physically small for more clinics so we set up clinics at the surgery.

In a bid to modernise the way care is delivered, the clinics will be led not only by consultants but by other health professionals such as nurses, orthoptists and optometrists.

During 2012-2013 the service carried out 34,717 appointments including 9,998 with new patients. In the first quarter of 2013-2014 the department recorded 8,000 appointments and in April of that year, 4,500 patients were overdue for a follow-up appointment.

“Because we had a big backlog of patients, at the request of the CCG, we are currently closed to new referrals while we address the backlog issue.”

“The number of patients to be seen has reduced by a third but I don’t think we have resolved the problem yet.

“When we are down to sensible levels and the clinical risk is reduced in the summer we will open to new patients.”

So far a new consultant, four nurses and five technicians have been hired.

The clinics in Eldene will focus on non-acute cases such as glaucoma and ocular plastics.

Although delighted with the investment, Coun Derique Montaut (Lab, Liden, Eldene and Park South) raised concerns about the impact of the new clinics on traffic around the surgery.

“The steps taken to invest the £1.6m and the satellite service will benefit not just Swindon but the people living locally,” he said.

“The service would be important in bringing down waiting times for patients going through the national health service.

“But it may increase the number of cars coming into the area and that may well be a problem.”