It was during a routine eye test in February last year when Andrew Battye, a 68-year-old former NHS worker, first realised something was wrong.
The keen painter had just bought some glasses, and was taking them back because they did not seem to be working when he discovered the sight in his left eye had developed a degeneration.
He was diagnosed at Harrogate hospital with wet age-related macular degeneration, an eye disease that can rapidly blur the central vision if left untreated. Despite the swift diagnosis, it took almost three weeks before he received his first stabilising injection. “In that three weeks I lost a lot of vision,” he said.
He was told he needed monthly treatments to keep the condition at bay. But “it’s been anything up to nine weeks”, he said. Although most appointments have been on schedule, three or four have involved a long delay that can irreversibly affect eyesight.
“It’s a battle, basically, to get your appointment. My last one was supposed to be four weeks and was seven and a half weeks – and we only managed to get one because of a cancellation,” he added.
Services are stretched, meaning there are not enough qualified staff to see him on every visit.
He said: “I get an injection only on two visits and then only get to see an optometrist on every third visit, to get both eyes checked – basically waiting three months [between checks] instead of one.
“The hospital says they’re trying to recruit people but they just haven’t got enough for the sheer weight of numbers of people.”
Battye, who lives in Selby in North Yorkshire with his wife, Elizabeth, and has two grownup children, has experienced NHS delays before, having waited nine months to be treated for a basal cell carcinoma skin cancer, which was supposed to take eight weeks.
He has changed his painting style, and become more abstract, as a direct result of the delays to his eye treatment.
“My left eye is fairly useless now, really. I can sort of see things, but everything’s distorted. Straight lines get very wavy, it’s blurred in the centre, and colours as well – colours get very dim,” he said.
Despite being a former NHS worker himself – “I don’t like to talk them down really” – Battye is angry at the missed opportunity to protect his sight. “You feel frustrated, but you also feel scared, knowing that you could lose your sight,” he said.
Nathaniel Dye, a music teacher and jazz musician, knows he waited too long after first developing possible signs of bowel cancer in spring 2022 before going to see his GP that September.
Once he did, he was shocked by how long it took to get diagnosed – his cancer was already at stage 4 – and start treatment.
“After I had a biopsy I had an agonising three-week wait to get the result. That felt like too long. I was in bits waiting to hear. It should only be a few days or maybe a week, because people are desperate to know,” he said.
His oncologist told Dye, 37, that there “wasn’t enough capacity in the system” to process the biopsy any sooner.
But the delay that worried him most was the 15-week wait he faced after seeing his GP before starting chemotherapy. “That’s far too long. People are in shock when I tell them that. I should’ve started treatment within a month. But those 15 weeks are a sign of a very stretched system. Everyone in the NHS is lovely but chronically overworked.”
He admits his case is “ambiguous” – that faster diagnosis and treatment may not have improved his chances and prevented the further spread of his cancer that a scan later detected.
“But could that spread have been avoided if it hadn’t been for NHS delays? It’s not certain that my prognosis would have turned out the way it did if it hadn’t taken 15 weeks to start chemo. There’s a chance that my cancer could have been nipped in the bud if the NHS was more efficient and it had been sooner,” he said.
But Dye is philosophical, not bitter.
“It’s too late for me. But I just want to use the time I’ve got left to urge people to go and see a doctor if they have any symptom that might be cancer, get themselves checked and demand prompt care,” he said.