COVID-19: The regional impact of COVID-19 on the certification of vision impairment in Northern Ireland

Jonathan Jackson *, Giuliana Silvestri, Michael Stevenson, Janet Sinton, Jacqueline Witherow, Roseleen McCann, Tanya Moutray, Laura Cushley

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


In this paper we highlight the impact which the disruption of secondary care ophthalmic services, resulting from COVID‐19, has had on Sight Impairment (SI) and Severe Sight Impairment (SSI) certification in Northern Ireland.

Regional data on SI and SSI certification in the period after the onset of the lockdown (19 March 2020–18 June 2020) were compared to the period immediately before lockdown (1 January 2020–18 March 2020) and to the same periods in 2019. Change documented was compared to post‐lockdown reductions in primary and secondary ophthalmic care activity.

In 2019, during the 3‐month period (19 March 2019–18 June 2019), 115 individuals were certified as sight impaired (SI 36, SSI 75, unspecified 4). Of those certified, 65 were female, 49 male. Principal causes of certification were: Age‐related macular degeneration (AMD) (N = 45), glaucoma (N = 20) and diabetic eye disease (DED) (N = 10). Mean VA, recorded from the better eye of those certified, was 0.96 LogMAR. In the 3 months following the onset of lockdown (19 March 2020–18 June 2020), only 37 individuals were certified (SI 6, SSI 31), 12 female and 25 male. AMD was the most frequent cause of sight impairment (N = 20). There were only two DED certifications and one due to glaucoma. Mean VA in the better eye of those certified was 1.15LogMAR. The numbers of CVI certifications completed following the introduction of COVID‐19 lockdown fell by 68%, compared to the 2019 data. There was a significant reduction in the proportion of female certifications (p = 0.01), and in certifications due to glaucoma (p = 0.02). The proportion of those certified as SSI as opposed to SI in the period after the onset of lockdown rose from 68% in 2019 to 84% in 2020. The mean VA of those certified in the period after the onset of lockdown, when compared to those certified in the other three periods, was worse by between 0.21 and 0.19 LogMAR (p = 0.06). Reductions reflected change in overall primary and secondary ophthalmic care activity.

It is inconceivable that COVID‐19 has reduced the incidence of sight‐threatening eye disease. We must therefore assume that a flood of newly presenting sight loss will present once the pandemic has passed. New presentations will include those who would normally have attended during the lockdown period, and patients who, had they accessed ophthalmic care at the appropriate time, would have been saved from severe levels of blindness. The implications of the predicted increase in demand for medical, social and low vision related services are huge.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-143
Number of pages7
JournalOphthalmic and Physiological Optics
Issue number1
Early online date09 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 16 Dec 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Vision Impairment
  • Blindness
  • Certification


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