Bolton NHS Foundation Trust has launched new “virtual” eye clinics intended to drastically reduce the time it takes for patients to undergo important eye tests.

The clinics, which are being offered at Waters Meeting Health Centre in Bolton, Greater Manchester, will allow patients with glaucoma and wet macular degeneration (chronic eye disease) to be tested in as little as an hour, compared to up to three hours previously.

Key to the new clinics are “advanced” ophthalmology technicians, who are capable of performing multiple roles – they provide a variety of tests and screens, including measuring vision, scans and eye pressure tests. They are also trained in education support, which includes teaching patients how to manage their condition.

Patients will be seen by the one specialist, instead of several different staff at the hospital.

After being tested, the results are sent electronically to a doctor for analysis and then sent to the patient and their GP.

The clinics are modelled on a similar service running at Manchester Royal Eye Hospital which incorporates “the very latest equipment”, including Zeiss Cirrus 5000 Optical coherence tomography (OCT) scanners and Kowa WX3D retinal diagnostic cameras.

The service allows large numbers of patients to be seen by Eye Unit staff at Royal Bolton Hospital, helping reduce the length of time they might wait for an appointment.

While care still has to be managed by an ophthalmic consultant, patients will no longer have to wait for an appointment at Royal Bolton Hospital’s Eye Unit to see them each time, a trust spokesperson said.

Kath Smyth, clinical lead for ophthalmology, said: “As the population is living longer, so are we caring for more and more people with eye problems. There are also new treatments for previously untreatable conditions which means we need to see more patients.

“This new service is a very exciting development for Bolton. It will give much faster expert review for patients via the virtual clinics and free up more capacity to see patients at the Eye Unit,” Smyth said.

Bolton NHS Foundation Trust believes that some 2000 patients a year will use the new clinics, which is the result of a £1m investment through a collaboration with the NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

In August, the trust deployed the open source OpenEyes electronic patient record across its eye department.

Barry Silvert, clinical director of commissioning at NHS Bolton CCG, said: “This is an exciting and transformational change to the way in which hospital eye care is delivered in Bolton. Ophthalmology services are under increasing pressure nationally and Bolton has taken this innovative step.

“By having co-developed an outcome based clinically sustainable model, Bolton’s eye care services are now fit for the future.”