Eye specialists say that hundreds of patients are losing their sight every year because of extensive delays in follow up checks, due to an overstretched and under-resourced NHS.

Preliminary research by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists suggests that more than 20 people a month are experiencing rapid decline in their vision after waiting months or years for follow-up eye appointments.

A separate report from the National Reporting and Learning System (NRLS) found that nearly 500 cases of sight deterioration from 2011 to 2013 were caused by delays in follow-up hospital appointments.

Patients with diabetic eye disease, glaucoma or age-related macular degeneration require close monitoring and care, and are most at risk of suffering irreversible sight loss.

Currently, hospitals are fined if patients have to wait more than 18 weeks for treatment after being referred by their GP, however, there are no such targets for follow-up appointments.

Gwen Kirby-Dent, a senior clinical negligence solicitor at Thompsons Solicitors’ London office, said: “Follow-up appointments are crucial to ensuring patients receive the most appropriate care for their eye-condition, yet it appears many patients are facing extensive delays that could seriously impact their eye-sight and health.

“The chancellor failed to acknowledge the crisis facing the health service when unveiling the 2016 budget last week, yet staff and services are being stretched beyond capacity and this latest research only highlights the potential risks to patient care that come with a poorly resourced NHS.”