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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Policy Changes amongst stakeholders to increase awareness and funding for research into sight loss, led by Dr Arjuna Ratnayaka and Dr Jenny Dewing

Project Overview:

Six million people in the UK are estimated to be living with sight-threatening eye conditions, with 2.5 million people living with some form of sight-loss and around 350,000 people registered as blind or partially sighted. The number of people living with sight-loss is estimated to increase by 40% by 20502. Together, these figures translate to substantial costs for the NHS and the wider economy, with NHS/social care services for vision problems costing more than £3.9 billion a year and an estimated annual economic cost of £25.2 billion. As eye researchers at the University of Southampton, we want to understand the causes of eye diseases and develop novel treatments for patients. However, this work is dependent on securing competitive grants from a limited pot of available funding, which in part has impeded the development of meaningful sight-saving treatments for patients.  The aim of this policy project was to initiate conversations with stakeholders, including eye research charities and UK Research Councils, to obtain information that will enable us to better understand how eye research is funded in the UK. We also aim to raise public awareness of the growing need for investment in eye research through social media.


Policy Implications

Our close association with several eye charities has enabled us to build a partnership to obtain insightful data for this study. Through discussions with Sight Research UK (formerly the National Eye Research Centre), the UK Macula Society and Gift of Sight Appeal, it became apparent that the vast gap between NHS expenditure on vision problems and investment in eye research was a shared concern for these charities. We obtained data from the annual reports of the leading research (Retina UK, Macula Society, Fight for Sight, Sight Research UK and Moorfields Eye Charity) and non-research (RNIB, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, Seeability, Blind Veterans and Sense) eye charities in the UK to find their average expenditure over 5 years from 2015 to 2019. The latter offer critical support and advice to blind and partially sighted people but do not currently fund any science research into eye diseases. We found that the average annual expenditure of eye research charities was £1.7 million (£425,000-£3,700,000 range), compared to £54 million by the leading non-research eye charities (£17,000,000-£94,000,000 range). The combined average annual expenditure of eye research charities is £8 million per year, compared to £271 million by non-research eye charities. Working with one of our project partners, Sight Research UK, we discovered that nearly one third of people believe that RNIB funds medical research, whilst 16% of people were under the impression that Guide Dogs for the Blind also invest in eye research (YouGov poll 2020). Furthermore, less than 10% of polled individuals had heard of two of the major eye research charities Sight Research UK and Fight for Sight. Together, these findings highlight the need for greater public awareness of UK eye charities and how they invest funds to support eye research.


Using the UK health research analysis 2018 online tool, we found that £32.6 million was invested in eye research in 2018, of which one third was provided by research charities, with the remaining two thirds of funding from government bodies, including the Medical Research Council (MRC), BBSRC and Innovate UK. With £2.56 billion spent on funding health research in 2018, this equated to 1.3% of total funding invested into eye research. This figure was considerably low when compared to the 19% and 6% of total research funding spent for the same period on cancer and cardiovascular diseases, respectively. Furthermore, this investment into eye research equates to only 0.1% of the total economic cost of vision problems, whilst the UK invested 6.4% of the economic cost of cancer and 1% of the economic cost of cardiovascular disease back into research for these conditionsThe Sight Research UK YouGov poll also showed that 30% of people admitted to not knowing very much about eye disease and sight loss, which corresponds with the comparatively low levels of public donations to eye research charities. As part of our project, we are creating a video that emphasises the need for better investment into eye research. The video will also highlight the positive impact of sight-saving treatments on patients. In addition, we will showcase the exciting on-going research within the Vision Group at Southampton University.



1.      RNIB 2018/2019 report

2.      Fight for Sight ‘Time to Focus Report 2020):

3.      UK health research analysis 2018

4.      UK economic cost of cancer:

5.     UK economic cost of CVD: Public Health England

Read Dr Raynayaka and Dr Dewing's latest article
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Estimated annual cost of blinding diseases
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Percentange Research Spend
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Percentange of total research funding in 2018
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UK funding for eye research
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Average annual expenditure
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