Nearly 1,500 Canadians lost vision due to pandemic-related delays in care: report

A new report estimates that 1,437 Canadians lost vision due to delayed eye examinations and treatments caused by lockdowns in 2020.

The report, compiled by the Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB), estimates the impact of COVID-19 on vision loss across Canada. Nearly all optometrists’ offices were closed during the first few months of the initial pandemic lockdown, from March to June 2020. Furthermore, most offices continued to restrict capacity throughout 2020.

As a result, there were nearly three million fewer optometry visits in 2020, compared to 2019, the report said. There were also 335,000 fewer eye surgeries performed across Canada between March and June of 2020, representing a 47 per cent decrease from the previous year.

“All Canadians living with eye diseases were impacted by COVID-19,” the CCB said in a statement.

“Some had their diagnosis delayed, potentially missing or delaying an opportunity to receive treatment to stabilize the disease. Others were delayed in receiving counseling and support to assist in dealing with the mental, physical and social effects of vision loss.”

PUTTING A COST ON VISION LOSS

Even as optometry offices reopened across Canada, the report estimates it will take two years to clear the additional backlog of cataract surgeries caused by the pandemic. The cost to clear this backlog is estimated at $129 million per year.

The report also estimates that the increase in surgery wait times will result in a $1.3-billion increase in the cost of vision health over the next two and a half years. Roughly $1.1 billion of this cost stems from a loss of well-being, the report said.

These latest findings were added to a report conducted by the CCB and accounting firm Deloitte in 2020.

The new report comes amid stalled negotiations between Ontario optometrists and the provincial government over the payments for OHIP-covered eye exams. As a result of the job action, millions of Ontarians have been unable to book eye exams since early September.