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

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

But it 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 Ophthalmol-ogy 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 said new staff had been recruited to ensure the service was more effective.

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

The spokesman said: “To enable the GWH to treat all of its current patients, the ophthalmology department is no longer accepting new patient referrals from January 1 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.”