If you are faced with a patient with low vision or special needs, what do you do? Increasing emphasis is being placed on creating a high street optical practice fit for the 21st century, that can offer a wider range of services and meet all sorts of patient needs, but you don’t need to do this on your own. In this article we discover more about how to work with local organisations and build a local resource directory so you always have the ability to help people at your fingertips.
As we see a rise in sight loss due to an ageing population, there are growing demands on existing low vision services, but still some people don’t know what help is out there. Organisations like SeeAbility are campaigning to raise awareness of the need for eyecare for children and young people with complex needs, but this can leave parents uncertain where to turn, particularly if they find out that their child needs more help than a pair of specs. This is where you can come in. A dispensing optician can be a great person to signpost patients to more help. As a DO you already take time during the dispense to listen to the person and understand their needs. If someone is hoping that their new specs will enable them to read recipes again, but you can see from their sight test results that their VA isn’t great, you can talk about ‘bigger, bolder, brighter’, and put them in touch with local organisations that can come to their house, offer training or specialist equipment so that they can stay independent.
“But I don’t know who can help!” If you aren’t sure about local support, now is time to take action. Start by discovering more about local societies for blind and partially sighted people, and support groups for people with different conditions. You could talk to parents groups and find out what is on offer for children with special needs. Gather a leaflet from each organisation into a folder to have in practice. This can stimulate your memory when faced by a new patient, and act as a resource for the whole team. Ask for large print leaflets – or create your own. Write up a list of links to local organisations, explaining what each organisation does. This can be used to spread the word. Add the list of local organisations to your practice website, and highlight each group in turn on your practice Facebook page as a resource for patients. Add a QR code to a poster, highlighting your new resource so people can access the list on their phone.
When you have your resource directory, hold staff training so everyone is able to refer people on as appropriate. Invite your local eye clinic liaison officer (ECLO) to run a training session. To develop the relationship further, you could invite an organisation in to the practice to have a stand or a window display. You could start fundraising for an organisation or work together on local PR for press and radio. Trainee DOs who need to do a final year project could focus on a condition and work with a relevant local group.
Ashley Staniforth is a DO and works at the low vision clinic at Barnsley Hospital. She says, “Working in the hospital clinic has helped me build on what I knew already about the local support for people with sight loss. We get quite a few people with low vision into the practice and we refer them to the clinic where we can dispense them with low vision aids. I have strong links with the local sensory services team. They assist people to learn the skills they need at home and help with rehabilitation after sight loss. I saw a patient today who had nothing but praise for the ECLO and the links to sensory services. She is elderly, lives by herself, and all her family are a long way away. Letters and emails are vital to help her stay in touch, and the electronic aids, loaned by sensory services, allow her to do this.”
Ashley liaises with her local society for blind and partially sighted people. She says, “Barnsley Society for the Blind is particularly helpful for patients who are secluded. It gives them a support network. They have day trips, support groups, and help people get out and enjoy themselves.”
Russell Ham, dispensing optician, spends two days a week working for the Low Vision Service Wales. The service offers assessment and magnifiers, telescopes, telelenses, and an electronic aid all for free to those in need. Russell explains about what else he can offer his patients: “I refer to local social services, Sight Cymru, RNIB and the local ROVIs – rehabilitation officers for the visually impaired. They go into the community to help people with sight loss look after themselves, and teach them navigate their local areas using facilities available like tactile floor markers.”
Russell found out about the local support available as part of the Low Vision Service Wales training. He says, “One of the assignments was to make a list of local resources which got me off to a good start.” Russell continues, “I also liaise with GPs. I had a lady in this week who complained that although she knows what medication she should take, she can’t cope if they change the brand and colour of tablets. I wrote a referral to her GP asking about Dosette boxes which help people take tablets safely. The GP liaised with the pharmacist who then supplied medication boxed by day and time.”
People with low vision can find themselves struggling with depression. Russell says, “I have sent referrals to MIND. Low vision can be difficult, depression is one of the things I need to look out for and our local MIND offers counselling.” Low vision is not necessarily a static condition, and people can find their vision getting worse. As a DO you can identify this, and discuss if people might need more help and support in the future. Russell says, “I may refer people back to the eye department for registration as sight impaired. Becoming registered can be a low priority and it takes time for referral to go through, but it is a huge door opener. Once people are registered they become entitled to discounted or free TV licenses, free directory enquiries, and subsidised telephone installation. Registration can also add more weight to applications for social services support.”
Russell says, “The rest of the UK needs to catch up with Low Vision Service Wales; low vision services are life-changing. I’ve lost track of the number of patients who have cried because they can read or sew or knit again, just because I have supplied them with the right magnifier. I saw a lady with central vision loss due to macular degeneration this week. Using a specialist lens I was able to move where the light focuses, away from her macular degeneration, improving her central vision. She could see photos of her great granddaughter for the first time in many years.”
Ashley Staniforth is passionate about the need for DOs to reach out and support those with sight problems. She says, “There isn’t enough knowledge about what is out there. The low vision side of optics is underrated. If more high street practices offered it, it would help patients understand that sight loss isn’t the end of the world, that there is help out there. I’m proud to offer this service, and to link up with other organisations to really make a difference to people’s lives.”
If you are inspired by what these DOs are doing, put aside some time to develop your own local resource directory and build links with local support groups.
Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) work in the eye clinic, and liaise with the sensory team in social services. Being diagnosed with sight loss is traumatic, and ECLOs give people the practical and emotional support they need to understand their diagnosis, deal with their sight loss and maintain their independence. Visit www.rnib.org.uk/ecloinformation for a register of hospitals in the UK with eye clinic support.
RNIB has a number of resource centres across the UK where patients can get information as well as try and buy products that can help them live independently. It has four resource centres in England, one in Scotland (Edinburgh), one in Wales (Cardiff), two in Northern Ireland and one on the Isle of Man. Contact details are in the Sightline Directory, www.sightlinedirectory.org.uk
Visionary is a membership organisation for local sight loss societies. It has a postcode locator to help find the closest society to the user. Get in touch with your local society and find out if they offer resource centres, meet ups and other services. www.visionary.org.uk
NHS Services. You can find local NHS services by searching www.nhs.uk/service-search
You may know many local voluntary organisations, but there are probably more out there that you don’t yet know about. Consider different age groups as some organisations may support children or older people. Search for your local society for blind and partially-sighted people. Ask other professionals for their thoughts too. The NCVO coordinates local volunteers and may be able to help you find more voluntary organisations in your area www.ncvo.org.uk