EYE EXPERTS in Southampton have developed the UK’s first “conveyor belt” system to give patients quicker access to sight-saving injections.

Southampton General Hospital’s eye unit has launched a new £185,000 suite which allows doctors to quadruple the number of patients suffering from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) treated in a single session.

The four open treatment bays have replaced one closed consulting room, meaning there will always be a patient ready for their injection, rather than the slow and inefficient one-in-one-out system traditionally used.

The new injection suite will be officially opened tomorrow by Dame Mary Fagan, the Lord-Lieutenant of Hampshire.

AMD is a leading cause of blindness in the elderly and occurs when the cells of the macula become damaged and stop working, causing a loss of central vision.

Although there is not currently a cure or treatment for the most common form of the condition, known as dry AMD, wet macular degeneration can be stabilised using a new class of drugs administered by injection called anti-VEGF agents.

Previously, the 1,500 patients who attend the eye unit for monthly injections would sit in the waiting area before making their way to a single consulting room.

Under the new system, four patients will be taken directly to the four treatment bays, given an injection, escorted away and immediately replaced by the next patient as a consultant moves along the chain.

The new innovative system has been brought to Southampton by world-leading eye expert Professor Andrew Lotery, consultant ophthalmologist at the hospital, who saw a similar system used in Ireland.

Professor Lotery said: “By having one doctor navigating around four treatment rooms, a patient will always be ready for an injection, so there will be the ability to increase the number of injections given per session.

“The rate limiting step with the current set-up is moving elderly patients in and out of a single room, as this limits the number of injections we can give to around ten per session where, potentially, we could progress to 40 per session.

"By introducing what is effectively an injection conveyor belt, we will greatly improve capacity and reduce waiting times for access to this sight-saving treatment which, consequently, will improve outcomes for this patient group.”

The suite was funded by University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, the League of Friends of Southampton’s eye unit, Novartis Pharmaceuticals and the Gift of Sight Appeal.