THE Friends of Warminster Hospital are launching an appeal for a new scanner to save patients suffering from eye problems from regular long-distance journeys.

The £36,000 OCT eye scanner is used to monitor glaucoma and macular degeneration. Currently the nearest units are in Salisbury District Hospital and the Royal United Hospital in Bath.

There were 597 GP referrals of those with eye problems to Salisbury Hospital between January and July this year, of which 333 were from Warminster, 107 from Trowbridge and 99 from Westbury. A similar number were referred to the RUH.

Friends chairman Charles Lane said that with the scanner in place at Warminster, those patients – many of them elderly – will be spared long monthly journeys.

“It is a growing problem nationally, but particularly in the south west where there is a higher proportion of old people,” he said.

“When people are diagnosed with macular degeneration it means monthly check-ups, and many patients are elderly or partially sighted, making the journey more difficult.

“The scanner will make it much easier for them, and also relieve pressure on the other hospitals which are a bit overburdened at the moment.”

The plans follow on from the purchase of a visual field analyser by the Friends last year, requested by a visiting ophthalmologist from Salisbury.

Warminster Hospital will from this month also be running eye clinics more regularly, once a week, in the out-patients department.

Richard Antcliff, consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the RUH, said: “Attending ophthamology clinics, particularly for conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, which requires monthly follow-ups, is very demanding for patients and anything that can be done to lighten the travel and cost burden is very welcome.”

The Friends are contributing to the cost of the scanner from their funds, and will be approaching the town council, area board and local opticians for contributions.

They will also be leaving public donation envelopes around Warminster, including at the Civic Centre, local surgeries, the Information Centre and the hospital.