NEW patients are being turned away from the Great Western Hospital’s eye department as staff struggle with growing demand.

While exisiting patients are being treated as normal at the clinic for a variety of eye problems including cataracts, glaucoma, retinal detachment and corneal graft, new patients are being referred to hospitals and services as far afield as Cheltenham.

The situation was described as ridiculous and wrong’ by a 77-year-old West Swindon pensioner who asked not to be named.

The woman, who is awaiting cataract surgery, was at first told she would not be able to be seen in Swindon but would instead have to travel to Cirencester.

She was eventually booked into Cheltenham for the operation, which is due to take place in May.

“It is absolutely ridiculous,” she said.

“I was told that the department was only open to patients who have already been using it and not to new patients. I was told I had to go to Cirencester and then, when I called again, they said I had to go to Cheltenham. I thought it’s getting further and further away.

“In a big place like Swindon this is just wrong. It’s such a rigmarole when you have an eye department on your doorstep.”

The GWH said it has difficulties dealing with demand due to a growing and ageing population.

But itn is about to implement new measures to cater for patients, such as providing 28 extra clinics each week.

Hilary Shand, chief operating officer at GWH NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The Ophthalmology Service at the Great Western Hospital has been experiencing some difficulty in meeting demand.

“With more patients we have been working on a plan to improve the service.

“The trust board recently approved a £1.6m investment in the service to support our plans to provide 28 more clinics per week at GWH and out in the local community in Swindon and Wiltshire, and significant investment in recruiting extra doctors, nurses and support staff.

“While these plans take effect, Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group have temporarily stopped new patients from being referred to our ophthalmology service at GWH, other than for emergency cases.

“This is while we increase staffing and the number of clinics to match demand. Existing patients under our care are still being treated.”

She added new staff had been recruited to ensure the service was more effective.

A Swindon Clinical Commissioning group spokesman said the body will provide transport to patients having to go to another hospital for treatment.

“To enable the GWH to treat all of its current patients, the ophthalmology department is no longer accepting new patient referrals from 1 January until they are able to recover from a situation whereby new referrals were being seen in a more timely manner than those requiring follow-up assessment.

“The department will continue to care for existing patients and receive any new emergency referrals.

“New patients have the option of different healthcare providers, who all provide the same level of treatment.

“Swindon CCG has made arrangements for any patient who has to travel to another hospital, to receive transport at no cost to the patient.”